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name of the term : Sodium

Short introduction

  • Sodium is a mineral with the symbol Na.
  • Sodium is an electrolyte, like potassium and chloride.
  • The human body uses electrolytes for regulating nerve and muscle function and to maintain the water and acid-base balance.
  • Sodium is a component of (table) salt: 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Symbol: NaCl.
  • Sodium is excreted via e.g. urine and sweat. Healthy kidneys maintain a constant level of sodium in the body by adjusting the amount excreted in the urine.

Main natural sources

  • A small amount of sodium is naturally present in most foods.
  • Most dietary sodium we consume is found in processed foods in the form of salt; sodium is a component of (table) salt (symbol: NaCl) – 40% sodium and 60% chloride. Salt may be added for flavour enhancement or to extend the shelf life of foods.
  • Salt is industrially added to a wide variety of foods or by the consumer as table salt.

Main function

  • Most of the body’s sodium is found in blood and fluid around cells (along with chloride).
  • Sodium keeps fluids in balance and is involved in proper functioning of nerve impulses and muscles.
  • Sodium (and potassium) plays a role in blood pressure (and blood volume) regulation.

Deficiency disease and excess

  • A deficiency is rare, as most people over-consume sodium.
  • Hyponatraemia (low blood sodium): the body contains too little sodium for the amount of fluid it contains. In cases of vomiting or diarrhoea, sodium is lost. When fluid losses are replaced with only water, sodium is diluted. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, vomiting and fatigue.
  • Hypernatraemia (high blood sodium): the body contains too little water for the amount of sodium, usually resulting from dehydration (drinking too little, vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive sweating). The first symptom is usually thirst. Severe hypernatremia can lead to confusion, weakness, muscle twitching, seizures, coma and death.
  • Infants and young children are vulnerable to water and electrolyte imbalance; when dehydration is not treated immediately, it can be fatal. Infants have higher total body water content per kg body mass, a higher rate of water turnover, limited ability to excrete solutes. They have an intact thirst mechanism but are not able to ask for water.
  • A high salt intake is associated with hypertension (high blood pressure) in the adult population. Studies reveal that excess sodium intake in children and adolescents is associated with higher blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease among adults. Similar to adults, children and adolescents consume most of their sodium from processed foods, fast foods and savoury snacks.
  • There is also evidence that dietary habits in childhood and adolescence influence eating patterns in later life. Liking salt and salty foods is a learned taste preference.

Recommended daily intake

Latest Dietary Reference Intakes  (DRIs) 
Institute of Medicine (IOM)

Age categoryPer day
Pregnancy
Lactation
1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
Infants 6 – 12 moths0.37 g (AI)
Children
 1 – 3 years
 4 – 8 years
1.0 g (AI)
1.2 g (AI)
Males
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years
1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.3 g (AI)
1.2 g (AI)
Females
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years

1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.3 g (AI)
1.2 g (AI)

 

AI = Adequate Intake.


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