Welcome, fellow citizen scientist.
Even on our blue planet, it's surprising that over 80% of us are walking around experiencing symptoms synonymous with dehydration. So what gives? What importance do electrolytes have in the greater picture of hydration and human function, and how can we utilise ancestral wisdom and modern research to optimise health? You are here because you are one curious individual, excited to learn more about your body, salt and how the two are intrinsically linked. We are here to unpack the FAQs and clarify the common myths surrounding electrolytes, what they are and why we need them.
First thing's first. Let's go back to the beginning of life on earth.
Salt 101, a brief history on salt.
You're one salty organism.
You're one salty organism. Really. Humans share very real similarities with the oceans that make up 71% of the Earth’s surface, which also make up 99% of the Earth's total living space. Sodium Chloride, aka salt, constitutes 90% of the entire oceans mineral content, which is the same percentage of mineral content found in the human bloodstream. From the ocean, came life, where cells could only survive within a narrow range of electrolyte levels in the extracellular fluid that bathes them. Thus, the development of several salt regulating systems had to occur for life to thrive, which are still prevalent in our bodies today, including our skin, adrenal glands and kidneys. These systems drive us to seek out and retain salt when we need it, and secrete it when we don't.
Wait, are you saying...
Yep. You evolved from an extremely salty environment, and took with you the ability to thrive in not-so-salty environments with bodily systems that control the precise electrolyte levels that facilitates cell life.
But isn't salt bad?
Well, no. Due to a number of drastically irresponsible recommendations from health organisations, based on research that had very little scientific evidence supporting these recommendations, the common belief was to reduce salt intake in order to reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular events. The hypothesis was that with an increased consumption of salt, you would need to drink more water. Your body would hold onto that water to dilute the excess salt in the blood, thus increasing overall blood volume and subsequently blood pressure leading to cardiovascular events.
Kind of. What they failed to mention is that these studies of the high-salt, high blood pressure connection saw positive results in only 20% of the population. To be in 20% of the population that saw an increase in blood pressure, two important factors needed to be met. You needed to be genetically predisposed to high blood pressure, or have a diet low in potassium. So, despite 80% of the population not seeing the blood pressure raising effect of high salt, a blanket low-salt guideline was administered across the total population, in an attempt to curb cardiovascular events. Furthermore, reducing salt intake to around 2,300mg / day (1 tsp) only saw an insignificant 1% drop in blood pressure, where, the negative side effects of reducing ones salt intake are far worse than the blood pressure reducing effects experienced. Despite an overwhelming amount of critics advocating against this high-salt, high blood pressure theory, it was taken to the mainstream population prematurely, without sufficient evidence supporting its claims. Instead, if they had looked at the all important point of why salt may increase blood pressure in some, and not in others, they would have found it had nothing to do with salt, and in fact, addressing the underlying issue would completely fix one's salt sensitivity.
What causes high blood pressure?
Sugar is to blame, not salt which is an essential mineral to the human body and its performance. Sugar has an adverse effect on insulin (body nutrient storage hormone), which creates an overload of fluid in the body (blood volume) that leads to elevated blood pressure, heart rate and disease. Never eating sugar again won't hurt you but never eating salt will.
So, should I eat salt?
Absolutely, if you are one of the majority of people who are not salt sensitive, your body has the ability to easily clear excess sodium using the mechanisms responsible for maintaining healthy electrolyte levels in the body. Contrarily, with little mechanisms built in to handle the massive amounts seen in modern diets today, sugar wreaks havoc on your body by diluting salt levels in your blood, causing dehydration, hypertension, insulin resistance and much more.
What is salt anyway?
We are glad you asked! Salt is a mineral made up of predominantly Sodium Chloride, as well as trace minerals including Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium Iodine. As we mentioned, Salt has been with us since the very beginning, where the precise make up of minerals will depend on the source and quality of the salt. Salt is considered one of six essential nutrients to humans, where we can't live without it.
Humans evolved to thrive with salt, not sugar.
The human body has had a long time to figure out salt.
Thinking from an evolutionary perspective, it's commonly theorised that all forms of vertebrates, including mammals, evolved from single celled organisms originating in the ocean. For forms of life to survive and thrive in the saltiest of environments, they would need to evolve a salt regulating system capable of absorbing and re-absorbing salt and water. It's likely that kidneys then originated in the ocean, working synergistically to sustain the precise levels of salt required for proper cell function and hydration. Fast-forward to today, and similar systems are prevalent in maintaining optimal function, ensuring homeostasis in humans. This small but important part of our evolution points to how we as humans can thrive in all geographic locations on the planet, today, with the ability to seek salt out in times of scarcity, and excrete it in times of excess.
It hasn't quite worked out sugar yet.
Whilst the human body has evolved to deal with sodium in times of excess and times of scarcity, with the introduction of refined carbohydrates and processed sugar only being a thing of the last 100 years, a huge increase in the cases of metabolic dysfunction shows that we haven't had a great deal of time to work them both out. Calories that are derived from sugar are particularly problematic when it comes to weight management and general health.
The higher intake of sugar increases the body's insulin resistance and fat storage, more so than other forms of calories, leading to metabolic disfunction, chronic inflammation, and oxidative stress in the body. Speaking of hydration, higher levels of glucose in the blood even pull water out of your cells, causing cellular dehydration. This water is pushed into your bloodstream, which dilutes your overall salt levels. Furthermore, over consuming sugar can lead to damaging the mitochondria, the powerhouse of your cells, which inevitably leads to a decrease in ATP, increasing your hunger and leaving you with no energy for exercise.
Why do we crave salt?
Humans have evolved to thrive with salt, developing specific mechanisms to maintain electrolyte levels in their correct levels needed for optimal function. Seeing where we have evolved, it is no surprise, salt is one of our five taste sensations. The human body has an in-built "salt-thermostat" that helps regulate the right amount of salt we consume. Craving salt is your body sending a signal to your brain to seek more salt to meet your physiological requirements, where the opposite action would be true when you have had enough salt. The delicate balance of body fluid, salt and electrolytes is maintained by this system, and happens without you needing to lift a finger.
Naturally, our bodies will shut off the cravings for salt when we have fulfilled our needs, however overeating salt is something the body is still equipped to deal with, where our kidneys will simply reabsorb less sodium and pass it through the body. Picture it as an overflowing bucket, where more salt takes stress off us to fill the bucket, and not enough creates stress to fill an empty bucket!
Why do we crave sugar?
Unlike salt being controlled by an ancestral and physiological need, our bodies sugar cravings are either psychological desire, or physiological cravings as a result of low blood sugar, caused by a sugar crash. Craving sugar is a positive feedback system, where when we consume sugar, our bodies want more and more sugar, creating a perpetual cycle of high and low blood sugar, caused entirely by ourselves.
Not all electrolytes are created equal.
Today, the global electrolyte market is focussed more on people's sugar addictions than they are on replenishing essential electrolytes needed for optimal function, physical performance and daily hydration. Even certain "no-sugar" replacements use nasty artificial sweeteners, and lack the adequate amount of electrolytes to make any real difference is ones electrolyte status. One would need to consume multiple ready to drink sports drinks to achieve the same electrolyte levels as one sachet of Everyday Hydration Salts.
Salt is essential, not optional
Let's break down Salt and Sodii in a bit more detail.
As mentioned, Salt is predominantly comprised of Sodium Chloride. Sodium Chloride is vital to both human performance and survival. After digestion, in bodily fluids, salt turns into electrolytes, positively charged Sodium and negatively charged Chloride, found mostly in blood and the fluid that bathes our cells. Sodium levels are tightly regulated in the human body through a process called osmoregulation. Sodium plays an important role in regulating body fluids and normal nerve and muscle function. Having evolved with sodium, the human body has a variety of mechanisms to deal with it in times of excess and times of scarcity, however the body is better at dealing with more, than too little. Low levels of sodium can have a critical impact on healthy individuals, leading to chronic dehydration, increased heart rate and increased stress hormones in the body. Sodii contains 1000mg of straight sodium (2000mg of Salt).
What about Magnesium?
99% of magnesium in the human body is found in bone, muscles and soft tissue. Along with potassium, it is a nutrient essential to numerous physiological functions in humans, including the body's ATP energy system, muscle contraction and relaxation, neurological function and release of neurotransmitters. Low sodium levels can lead to magnesium being pulled from bone and muscle stores to maintain homeostasis. Sodii contains 70mg of bio-available magnesium to compliment a balanced whole-foods diet, and aid in efficient hydration.
In general terms, potassium is a nutrient, essential for normal bodily function. The role of potassium and sodium are tightly linked in the human body and hydration. Primarily found in cells, potassium's role in humans is to maintain fluid balance in blood plasma, cells and extracellular fluid. Potassium is also key to nerve signalling, muscle contractions and maintenance of blood pressure. Like sodium, humans have evolved with potassium rich diets, where the body has mechanisms to deal with excessive amounts to maintain homeostasis. Sodii contains 210mg of potassium, formulated to complement a balanced diet, along with optimal hydration.
So, Salt is pretty important?
For optimal human physical and mental health, yes.
So what causes salt depletion?
The optimal range of sodium will vary from person to person. Due to ever changing modern health and lifestyle habits, you may be losing more sodium than you think throughout your day. The overconsumption of sugar, medication, caffeine, exercise and some dietary approaches can have negative effects on your blood sodium levels. Replenishment becomes extremely important to tackle salt depleting activities head on throughout the day.
My morning coffee is dehydrating me?
Potentially! Coffee and tea are both natural diuretics, increasing water and salt loss from our kidneys. The second and third most consumed beverages in the world respectively, are causing salt excretion from the body and usually not being accounted for in the standard dietary guidelines for consuming salt.
What about my daily exercise?
As people around the world turn to hobby fitness activities for their daily activity, more than ever must we look after our electrolyte intake and hydration. Whether you are an elite athlete or weekend cyclist, electrolyte intake is still vital to performance and feeling good. Even the consumption of lots of water, whilst important, without the replacement of electrolytes could be diluting you of electrolytes in your blood.
Thermoregulation is the body's ability to sweat, helping the body maintain optimal temperature throughout hot weather, exercise and physical activity. Sodium is a key driver in the body's ability to sweat and cool itself.
Salt and Low Carbohydrate Diets
So what is a ketogenic diet anyway?
A ketogenic diet is a way of eating that allows your body to enter a state of ketosis, where fat is burned and becomes the primary fuel source for the body producing ketones. Typically speaking, lowering total daily carbohydrate intake to below 50g will yield a state of ketosis, however periods of fasting can also yield similar results. Entering into even a mild state of ketosis regularly can have numerous benefits for your health including weight loss, blood sugar balance, satiety and craving control, improved energy and cognitive function, mood stabilisation and other therapeutic benefits the diet has been used for, for years.
What does salt have to do with ketosis?
One of the main aspects of a low-carb diet is the lowering of insulin in the body. Insulin helps regulate the body's sodium levels, by assisting in its reabsorption in the kidneys. A higher level of Ketones will result in a greater release of Glucagon and lower levels of insulin. With low insulin comes low sodium levels, until your body can train itself to reabsorb more salt. Typically speaking, if you are following a low-carb, ketogenic diet, your body will expel sodium faster than someone on a more standard diet, meaning, more sodium is needed to maintain optimal health.
So I need more salt?
Yes! When your body is running low on sodium, it has mechanisms in place to maintain homeostasis, however that is a life saving mechanism, not an optimal function mechanism. If you are experiencing fatigue, cramping, dizziness and constipation, chances are you're lacking the essential sodium levels your body desperately needs to function. To put it simply, the symptoms felt during the "keto flu" can be easily managed with adequate sodium and electrolyte intake.
Follow your salt thermostat.
Your body has an extremely complex, interconnected set of systems at play that help your body maintain the optimal electrolyte balance, simply named, the Salt Thermostat. Your body would much rather deal too much salt, simply re-absorbing less and flushing it through kidneys, than deal with not enough salt and activate salt-retaining systems. These salt retaining systems cause your body to release the hormones renin and aldosterone, signalling to the body to go find salt from other more vulnerable parts of the body. Craving salt is part of this system, where your body is signalling you to consume more salt in order to maintain the optimal salt balance.
How to stay salty.
Adding good pink salt to water is one way to keep your sodium levels up, however for most people, this is not sustainable or enjoyable, and straight pink salt lacks the correct amount of magnesium and potassium needed for optimal function. As we have learned, all electrolyte products are not created equal, where most lack the required electrolytes and are packed with sugar or artificial sweeteners. We formulated our Everyday Hydration Salts with ketogenic diets in mind, with specifically high levels of sodium and the adequate amounts of magnesium and potassium for everyday use.