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A salty diet could make it hard for your body to fight off infection: study – New York Post

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There are several risks associated with a high-salt diet, including high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke — but a new study reveals that a compromised immune system should be added to that list.

To mitigate the well-documented health risks associated with a high-salt diet, the World Health Organization recommends adults cap their salt intake to about one teaspoon, or 5 grams, per day — an amount equivalent to about two Big Macs.

Unfortunately, as the Food and Drug Administration points out, Americans consume on average some 8.5g of salt each day — almost double the WHO’s recommendation — which partially explains why the US suffers such high rates of hypertension, a major contributing factor to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Now, German researchers at the University of Bonn believe that too much salt could also weaken our immune system —  particularly our defenses against bacterial infections.

Dr. Katarzyna Jobin, Natascha Ellen Stumpf, Melanie Eichler, Prof Dr. Christian Kurts, Olena Babyak and Mirjam Meissner.
Dr. Katarzyna Jobin, Natascha Ellen Stumpf, Melanie Eichler, Dr. Christian Kurts, Olena Babyak and Mirjam Meissner.Max Germer

“We examined volunteers who consumed 6 grams of salt in addition to their daily intake,” says Prof. Dr. Christian Kurts, whose study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. “This is roughly the amount contained in two fast food meals, i.e. two burgers and two portions of french fries.”

Kurts says their research “prove[s] for the first time that excessive salt intake also significantly weakens an important arm of the immune system.” Yet, these findings contradict prior studies which have shown that a high-salt diet was effective in healing infections caused by certain skin parasites in laboratory animals. Thus, many scientists had previously concluded that sodium chloride could have immune-boosting qualities.

“Our results show that this generalization is not accurate,” says Dr. Katarzyna Jobin, lead author of the current study. They explain that the skin functions as a salt reservoir for the body, which lends a hand in the elimination of certain skin diseases. But inside the body, salt concentration is meant to remain constant — save the kidneys, which bear the brunt of high salt intake. This latest study discovered that, as the kidneys filter blood, the presence of salt prompts glucocorticoids, a type of hormone, to build up in the body, which impairs a common type of bacteria-busting immune cell called granulocytes.

“We were able to show this in mice with a listeria infection,” explains Dr. Jobin. “We had previously put some of them on a high-salt diet. In the spleen and liver of these animals we counted 100 to 1,000 times the number of disease-causing pathogens.” Urinary tract infections, the study finds, also healed much more slowly.

After just one week on the high-salt regimen, blood samples from test subjects showed that human granulocytes were already failing to cope with bacterial intruders. They also showed increased glucocorticoid levels — which scientists anticipated would have an impact on the immune system, as glucocorticoid cortisones are already used to suppress inflammation (caused by an immune response) in medical settings.

Knowing how much salt is in your diet can be difficult, as most store-bought foods don’t include salt content on the nutritional label. Rather, they list sodium, otherwise known as sodium chloride, which is a component of dietary salt. For a better understanding of how much salt you’re getting per serving, simply multiply the sodium content in grams by a factor of about 2.5. Thus 5 grams of salt is equivalent to 2 grams (2000 milligrams) of sodium.

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