Dietary salt (sodium chloride), and specifically it’s high content, has been constantly related directly to the condition of high blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure bears a high risk of heart diseases, stroke, and kidney failure, apart from other systemic diseases. Having been studied for a long time, scientists have now started to track the changes that high salt intake brings about in the brain.
Brain-related problems specifically include cerebrovascular disease, stroke and cognitive impairments. These impairments would show up in the form of memory problems, disorientation, and not being able to dress, cook, pay bills, or perform other daily activities. Studies have been performed to understand the link between salt intake with brain health, and two very distinct direct and indirect connections have been established.
Direct effects on the brain
A number of studies for the effects of high dietary salt on brain function were performed on mice. In order to reach a hypothesis, researchers fed mice 8 to 16 times the normal amount of dietary salt. After 12 weeks, the mice started exhibiting signs of memory impairment. They were observed to be unable to tell new and familiar objects apart. The maze test for the mice got harder for them and they were unable to build a nest as well. This was translated to the activities of daily living of humans and severe cognitive impairment or dementia could be predicted.
To begin the analysis on humans, the researchers started to assess effects that were direct. The most plausible mechanism behind the negative effects of dietary salt involves the endothelial cells that lie inside the brain vessels. Endothelial cells are responsible for regulating the wall strength of the arteries and veins, as they are present in the lining of our blood vessels. A high content of salt in the diet causes some form of malfunctioning of these cells.
The brain is largely dependent on the oxygen that reaches it through the vasculature. This is what causes the brain to function properly, and keeps it safe from different diseases.
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Indirect effects on the brain
Apart from acting on the endothelial cells, it is also observed that excessive amounts of dietary salt affects our gut and immune system, which indirectly has an effect on the brain. Studies have shown that there is a remarkable amount of immune changes in the gut that result in an autoimmune kind of an effect on the brain.
In simple terms, it is common knowledge that whatever you eat reaches the gut and always affects it in a number of ways. These changes in the gut in turn cause many sorts of responses in the body. Some of those responses being inflammatory in nature indirectly contribute to some form or the other of brain dysfunction. The extent to which it literally leads to diseases like dementia is quite debatable and not completely decided upon, yet there is a very profound link that has been established between inflammation and brain dysfunction.
Effects on other parts of the body
Not only the brain but there are many other parts of the body that get affected or rather damaged due to a high salt diet. In a recent study it was demonstrated that excessive salt boosts the levels of Th17 and influences the development of multiple sclerosis. This might be key in explaining the rise of not just MS but other autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. The creation of an autoimmune response in the body is the gist of all these findings. A detailed result oriented approach of this line of analysis may be the breakthrough that scientists need in the field of body-generated diseases.
In order to reverse the negative effects or at least bring the effects in control, dietary changes are key. The fact that the negative effects of the high-salt diet seem to be reversible is the ray of hope that a person strolling with it needs. Practicing a healthy lifestyle in the form of healthy eating and rigorous exercising will definitely lead to the permanent resolution of these harmful effects on the brain. Specific disease controlling medications may also help in offsetting the negative effects of a high-salt diet.
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