The Science of Sodium

The Science of Sodium

With the average UK adult taking in 1/3 more salt than they need every single day it’s no wonder the government is keen to make us all aware of the health risks of too much sodium. Tales of hardening arteries, high blood pressure, and heart disease might leave you wondering if you’d be better off trying to avoid sodium altogether, but this key ion plays several essential roles in the body and when levels fall too low the results can be deadly.

The role of sodium in regulating blood pressure is well known; when sodium is dissolved in the blood plasma it attracts water to help keep the blood thin enough to easily flow round the body. Too much sodium leads to the blood retaining too much water, which increases the volume of blood in the system and puts extra pressure on the blood vessels. Too little sodium and water starts moving out of the blood plasma and into the cells, while most cells have enough space to accommodate this extra water the cells in the brain don’t. With nowhere to go brain cells are crushed against the skull and, if left untreated, can be permanently damaged.

Sodium ions (Na+) also help nerves to send electrical impulses round the body. Reaching speeds of up to ≈ 250 mph, these impulses are the body’s way of getting information from one place to another. When things are quiet, the body collects sodium ions outside the nerve’s cells. Then, when the body needs to send a message through that nerve, gates in the cell’s membrane open up and let the positively charged sodium ions flood in creating a sudden voltage spike within that cell. This change in voltage triggers the next cell to open its own gates, and the electrical impulse travels along the whole nerve.

When the nervous signal reaches a muscle, the electrical impulse causes calcium ions in the muscle to be released into the cells and the muscle contracts. Then a sodium gate, similar to that in the nerve cells, allows sodium ions to flow into the muscle cells. This movement of sodium ions in pushes the calcium ions out of the cell, and the muscle relaxes. If there isn’t enough sodium to push all of the calcium out the muscle stays contracted and you can look forward to some painful muscle cramps while your body tries to remove the leftover calcium.

One of the most common causes of sodium loss is exercise. As you sweat you’re not just losing water, but also key ions – with sodium being lost in the greatest amounts. While a small loss of sodium might leave you with a nasty headache and feeling a bit tired, a big loss may cause more severe symptoms such as hallucinations, confusion, or even seizures.

Our SportLyte kit is the perfect way to make sure you’re keeping a close eye on your sodium levels. By knowing how much sodium you need and when you need it, you can make sure body has enough to perform at maximum capacity without having to suffer through muscle cramps, spasms, or any of the other nasty symptoms that come with low sodium levels.