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Sodium

What is Sodium?

Alongside chloride and potassium, sodium is one of the three major electrolytes that exist in the body. As an electrolyte, sodium is a major mineral that dissolves in water and carries with it an electrical charge. Similar to potassium, sodium carries a positive charge and as a result, moves easily through cell membranes. Because sodium is a mineral electrolyte that is dissolvable, it is present in and around every cell in the body. This means that sodium must work to carry nutrients to cells and carry to their centers, while removing excess waste and fluid and transporting it outside of the cell upon exiting.

What does Sodium do?

As a transporter of nutrients in and out of cells, sodium works to promote healthy cell development and regulation. Working in perfect synch with potassium, sodium also helps to regulate fluid levels around cells. These two electrolytes are in constant motion as they work to keep exterior and interior fluid levels balanced.

Along with the body’s two other electrolytes, sodium acts as a transporter of nerve impulses and contributes to muscle contraction and relaxation as well. Sodium is a key player in heartbeat regulation as well as maintaining a balanced blood pressure level.

When it comes to digestion, the stomach requires the production of power liquids in order to break food down to the point its nutrients can be absorbed and used for energy. Sodium is a necessary ingredient in creating the hydrochloric acid that the stomach uses. Additionally, sodium plays a part in balancing the body’s pH level as well as contributing to muscle and general nerve functions.

Where is Sodium found?

Sodium is primarily found in foods that are available for consumption. The most abundant source of sodium is generic table salt. While table salt is generally easily accessible, sodium does exist in smaller amounts in other foods such as beets, celery and dairy products. Flavor enhancers and preservatives that are used in the production of processed foods often contain significant amounts of sodium as well.

For those looking for more direct forms of sodium, over the counter dietary supplements in the form of sodium capsules are available.

What happens when someone has a Sodium deficiency?

Most diets today contain more salt than needed as as a result, the majority of the population consumes more sodium than the body actually needs to perform its functions successfully. However, because sodium is an electrolyte and moves through liquids in the body, people who are suffering from illnesses that cause excessive vomiting or diarrhea may need to utilize a supplement to replace sodium lost with the expulsion of body fluids.

Some of the symptoms associated with a sodium deficiency may include dizziness, weakness or depression. Additionally, sufferers may experience low blood pressure, allergies, fatigue, as well as abdominal pain and potentially, anorexia.

Helpful food sources, supplements and additional benefits of Sodium

Sodium’s overall effectiveness can be aided by the use of Vitamin D and B6, chloride, calcium and potassium into an individual’s diet.

Sodium – AIs (Adequate Intakes)

If you do activities at higher levels or in humid climates resulting in excessive sweat, you may need more than the AI.

Infants
0-6 months
7-12 months
Grams per Day
0.12
0.37
Children
1-3 years
4-8 years

1.0
1.2
Males
9-13 years
14-18 years
19-30 years
31-50 years
50-70 years
> 70 years

1.5
1.5
1.5
1.5
1.3
1.2
Females
9-13 years
14-18 years
19-30 years
31-50 years
50-70 years
> 70 years

1.5
1.5
1.5
1.5
1.3
1.2
Pregnancy
< 19 years
19-30 years
31-50 years

1.5
1.5
1.5
Lactation
< 19 years
19-30 years
31-50 years

1.5
1.5
1.5

 

Sources:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/dietarysodium.html
http://www.webmd.com/search/search_results/default.aspx?query=sodium
http://www.vitalhealthzone.com/nutrition/minerals/sodium.html
http://nutrition.about.com/od/mineralglossary/g/sodiumglossary.htm
USDA Dietary Reference Intakes