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The health effects of salt are the conditions associated with the consumption of either too much or too little salt. Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl) and is used in food for both preservation and flavor. Sodium ions are needed in small quantities by most living things, as are chloride ions. Salt is involved in regulating the water content (fluid balance) of the body. The sodium ion itself is used for electrical signaling in the nervous system.
Salt consumption has increased during modern times. Scientists have become aware of health risks associated with high salt intake, including high blood pressure in sensitive individuals. Therefore, health authorities recommend limitations on dietary sodium. The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that individuals consume no more than 1500–2300 mg of sodium (3750–5750 mg of salt) per day depending on age.
Hypernatremia, a blood sodium level above 145 mEq/L, causes thirst, and due to brain cell shrinkage may cause confusion, muscle twitching or spasms. With severe elevation, seizures and comas may occur. Death can be caused by ingestion of large amounts of salt at a time (about 1 g per kg of body weight). Deaths have also been caused by use of salt solutions as emetics (typically after suspected poisoning), forced salt intake, and accidental use of salt instead of similar-looking sugar in food.
Hyponatremia, or blood sodium levels below 135 mEq/L, causes brain cells to swell; the symptoms can be subtle and may include altered personality, lethargy, and confusion. In severe cases, when blood sodium falls below 115 mEq/L, stupor, muscle twitching or spasms, seizures, coma, and death can result. Acute hyponatremia is usually caused by drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake.
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|United Kingdom||The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) defined for a typical adult||RNI: 1600||RNI: 4000||Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) (2003)||However, average adult intake is two and a half times the RNI. SACN states, "The target salt intakes set for adults and children do not represent ideal or optimum consumption levels, but achievable population goals." The Food Safety Authority of Ireland endorses the UK targets.|
|Canada||An Adequate Intake (AI) and Upper Limit (UL) recommended for persons aged 9 years or more.||AI: 1200–1500
|Health Canada (2005)|
|Australia and New Zealand||An Adequate Intake (AI) and an Upper Level of intake (UL) defined for adults||AI: 460–920
|NHMRC (2006)||Not able to define a recommended dietary intake (RDI)|
|United States||An Upper Limit (UL) defined for adults. A different upper limit defined for the special group comprising people over 51 years of age, African Americans and people with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease (regardless of age).||UL: 2300
UL for special group: 1500
UL for special group: 3750
|Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services (2010)||The Food and Drug Administration itself does not make a recommendation, but refers readers to the dietary guidelines given by this authority.|
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