Sodium is a mineral element with the atomic number 11. Sodium chloride, the chemical name for common
salt, contains 39 per cent of sodium, an element which never occurs
in free form in nature. It is found in an associated form with many
minerals especially in plentiful amounts with chlorine. The body of
a healthy person weighing about 65 kg contains 256 g of sodium
chloride which is equivalent to around 40 teaspoonfuls. Of this just over half is in the
extra-cellular fluid. About 96 g is in bone and less than 32 g in the
cells. Because salt is lost through perspiration, tears and urine it must be constantly replenished through the diet. Fortunately, most natural foods contain salt.
Sodium is the most abundant chemical in the extra-cellular
fluid of the body. It acts with other electrolytes, especially
potassium, in the intracellular fluid, to regulate the osmotic
pressure and maintain a proper water balance within the body. It is
a major factor in maintaining acid-base equilibrium, in transmitting
nerve impulses and in relaxing muscles. It is also required for
glucose absorption and for the transport of other nutrients across
cell membranes. Sodium can help prevent catarrh. It promotes a clear
brain, resulting in a better disposition and less mental fatigue.
Because of its influence on calcium, sodium can also help dissolve
any stones forming within the body. It is also essential for the
production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and plays a part in
many other glandular secretions.
Sodium is most often found outside the cell, in the plasma (the
non-cell part) of the bloodstream. It is a significant part of water
regulation in the body, since water goes where the sodium goes. If
there is too much sodium in the body, perhaps due to high salt
intake in the diet (salt is sodium plus chloride), it is excreted by
the kidney, and water follows.
Sodium is an important electrolyte that helps with electrical
signals in the body, allowing muscles to fire and the brain to work.
It is half of the electrical pump at the cell level that keeps
sodium in the plasma and potassium inside the cell.
Both deficiency and excess of salt may produce adverse effects to
the human body. Deficiencies of sodium are, however, rare and may be
caused by excessive sweating, prolonged use of diuretics, or chronic
diarrhoea. Deficiency may lead to nausea, muscular weakness, heat
exhaustion, mental apathy and respiratory failure. Over-supply of
sodium is a more common problem because of overuse of dietary sodium
chloride or common salt. Too much sodium may lead to water
retention, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, stomach cancer,
hardening of arteries and heart disease.
In case of mild deficiency
of sodium chloride, taking a teaspoon of common salt in one half
litre of water or any fruit juice quickly restores the health. In
severe conditions, administration of sodium chloride in the
form of saline by intravenous drip may be resorted to. The
adverse effects of excessive use of sodium chloride can be rectified
by avoiding the use of common salt and using Himalayan salt crystals or unrefined sea salt instead.