Hold the salt

18 May 2020

Excess salt consumption is linked with high blood pressure, but it could also impact the immune system.

18th May 2020

High salt consumption may weaken the immune system. A team from the University Hospital Bonn, Germany, found that mice infected with bacteria and fed a high salt diet were more likely to suffer severe infections. In addition they carried 100 to 1000 times the number of disease-causing pathogens in their livers and spleens. Urinary tract infections also healed more slowly in laboratory mice on a high salt diet.

Researchers contend that these outcomes could be due to excess salt affecting granulocytes, the most common type of immune cell in the blood, which mainly attack bacteria. If granulocytes can’t function properly infections proceed more aggressively, because sodium chloride sensors in the kidney cause glucocorticoids to accumulate in the body, inhibiting granulocytes.

A small study examined granulocytes in the blood of people who were given an extra six grams of salt each day for one week, the WHO recommends five grams per day.  Researchers found increased glucocorticoid levels and reduced ability to cope with bacteria. The finding was unexpected as some studies had indicated that excessive salt might invigorate immune responses as it was found infections from certain skin parasites healed more quickly in test animals fed a high salt diet. Researchers believe that this generalisation is not accurate.

Researchers do not believe that a high salt diet makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics, but it is possible that resistant bacteria become more troublesome if the immune defence is weakened.

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