Take Stress With a Grain of Salt

Salt can be a stress-relieving ingredient.
November 2017

Stress. No one wants it, but we all experience it from time to time. Higher levels of stress can cause problems at work and home. But stress is not just hard on your mental well-being; it is also hard on your body and can lead to many negative health outcomes.

Stress levels can increase significantly when economic times are tough. The British Health and Social Care Information Centre found that stress had increased by 47 percent during that country's recession and stress was the single biggest cause of sickness in the UK, affecting 20 percent of the population. Stress is a trigger mechanism for a range of conditions, from heart attacks to immune system disorders, mental illness and depression.

Some comfort foods have been shown to actually reduce stress, particularly those that contain salt. Stress is characterized in the human body by high levels of cortisol, referred to as the "stress hormone." Scientific research has shown, in animals and humans, that increased levels of salt consumption can be effective in reducing levels of cortisol.

Research from the University of Haifa, published in the science journal Appetite, confirmed the relationship between salt and stress in humans. Researchers found an inverse correlation between salt and depression or stress, especially in women.

The researchers reviewed data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey using 10,000 individuals and demonstrated that depression and stress were higher in individuals who consumed less salt. They noted that the relationship of higher depression with lower salt intake in humans was consistent with the results of animal studies. They also found that young people, up to age 19, selectively chose foods that were higher in salt, indicating a natural feedback mechanism driving them to consume higher salt foods and rewarding them with more vigorous growth.

Other good stress-relieving tips include getting a good night's sleep and taking time off to focus on relaxation and regular exercise, which has added health benefits. Of course, with exercise, another benefit of salt becomes apparent, as this vital nutrient is necessary to remain properly hydrated and healthy. When you sweat, you lose not just water but also electrolytes (including sodium), which need to be replenished.

Whether they are called comfort foods or mood stabilizers, research indicates salty foods can be effective at making us feel better and reducing our heightened stress levels. So, the next time you finish a stressful day and want to wind down and relax, don't be surprised if you instinctively reach for a salty snack.


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