Young man experiencing inflammation and wondering whether salt causes inflammation

Does salt cause inflammation?

Written on March 24, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

What is salt?

Though salt is widely known as sodium, it actually contains two minerals, sodium, and chloride [1]. Most of the sodium consumed in foods is in the form of salt. Your body needs sodium to function properly since it is an essential nutrient [2]. The appropriate amount of sodium helps your muscles and nerves operate and balance the fluid pressures in your body [3]. The Nutrition Facts Panel on the back of food labels lists salt in the product as sodium [1,2,4].

What is too much salt?

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily as part of a healthy diet [1,2]. However, the average daily sodium intake for Americans at least 2 years old is more than 3,400 mg [1]. It is also estimated that approximately 90% of Americans 2 years and older consume too much salt. Sodium intake from processed foods and eating out accounts for 70% of overall salt consumption.

If you are eating too much salt, some of the signs that you may experience include [3]:

  • Bloating: Too much salt will lead to fluid retention and cause swelling in your hands, feet, abdomen, and eyes.
  • Increased thirst: A meal high in salt may cause some people to drink more liquid than usual.
  • Rise in blood pressure: Sodium in the body is usually in the blood. Higher sodium levels will draw more water into the bloodstream, causing high blood pressure.
  • Poor sleep quality: A high sodium level, especially during dinner, can lead to increased blood pressure, thirst, and the need to use the bathroom, all of which can make sleep difficult.

Salt can contribute to inflammation

Consuming high amounts of salt is reported to raise blood pressure and can lead to heart disease and stroke — and even cause kidney damage [1,3,5,6].

High salt intake in your diet is believed to drive changes in the body that impact the immune response [1,3,5,6]. Once in the body, salt can modulate immune function, initiate proinflammatory activity, activate immune cells, and stimulate the secretion of inflammatory proteins, such as cytokines. Salt also triggers certain autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis [7,8]. Additionally, high sodium intake has been associated with obesity and inflammation in adolescents [9].

Benefits of reducing salt intake

Decreasing salt in the diet can possibly prevent thousands of deaths annually [1]. Lowering your salt consumption may benefit your overall health by improving blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Reducing the sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day for the average population may save up to $18 billion in healthcare-related costs.

Ways to lower salt intake

You can lower how much salt you eat in multiple ways. Here are some ways to decrease your salt intake [2,10,11]:

  • Learn to read the labels of foods carefully. Salts can be listed on the label as sodium. The higher salt appears on the ingredients list means there’s more of it in the food. You can also look for foods labeled as “sodium-free,” “salt-free,” or “low-sodium” to help reduce the amount of salt in your foods.
  • Use a salt substitute. Some substitutes replace salt with potassium chloride, which has a taste similar to salt. However, if you have kidney disease or take medications for your heart, you should consult with your healthcare provider before starting a salt substitute. Dried seaweed or yeast can also be used as a salt substitute, though it should be used in moderation if you have thyroid function issues.
  • Rinse canned vegetables thoroughly. If you use canned vegetables, be sure to give them a good rinse in cold water to wash off the excess salt used in the canning process.
  • Add flavor by using spices. To increase the flavor in foods, consider using different spices to add flavor instead of adding more salt. Pepper, lemon juice, and herbs can all be included to make foods less bland.
  • Buy fresh foods and eat in. Fresh meats, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains are naturally low in salt content. Processed meats, canned fruits, and frozen dinners have high salt. Using fresh products to cook your meals helps control how much salt is in your foods and decreases your overall salt intake.
  • Limit your condiments. Ketchup, mustard, pickles, and soy sauces all have a high level of salt content. Be mindful of how much of these condiments you use with your foods to reduce your salt intake. You can even easily remove the saltshakers from your table to help you limit putting additional salt onto your food.

At-home lab test for inflammation with Everlywell

Everlywell offers an at-home Inflammation Test that measures common acute inflammatory markers, giving you information on how your body manages inflammation. You and your healthcare provider can use this information to help design a care plan for you. Everlywell provides access to Virtual Care Visits, where you can consult with a certified clinician on your overall health and any questions you have regarding your inflammation concerns.

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  1. Sodium. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published December 21, 2021. Accessed March 20, 2023.
  2. Dietary guidelines for Americans. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. URL. Accessed March 20, 2023.
  3. Signs you’re eating too much salt. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Published February 24, 2023. Accessed March 20, 2023.
  4. How to understand and use the nutrition facts label. U.S. Food and Drug Administration—Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. URL. Accessed March 20, 2023.
  5. Afsar B, Kuwabara M, Ortiz A, et al. Salt intake and immunity. Hypertension. 2018;72(1):19-23. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.118.11128. URL.
  6. Kirabo A. A new paradigm of sodium regulation in inflammation and hypertension. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017;313(6):R706-R710. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00250.2017. URL.
  7. Sigaux J, Semerano L, Favre G, Bessis N, Boissier MC. Salt, inflammatory joint disease, and autoimmunity. Joint Bone Spine. 2018;85(4):411-416. doi: 10.1016/j.jbspin.2017.06.003. URL.
  8. Probst Y, Mowbray E, Svensen E, Thompson K. A systematic review of the impact of dietary sodium on autoimmunity and inflammation related to multiple sclerosis. Adv Nutr. 2019;10(5):902-910. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz032. URL.
  9. Zhu H, Pollock NK, Kotak I, et al. Dietary sodium, adiposity, and inflammation in healthy adolescents. Pediatrics. 2014;133(3):e635-e642. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-1794. URL.
  10. Richards L. How to eat less salt. URL. Accessed March 20, 2023.
  11. Sodium in your diet. U.S. Food and Drug Administration—Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. URL. Last reviewed February 25, 2022. Accessed March 20, 2023.
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