Salt is often associated with high blood pressure and heart issues, but recent research suggests that salt may play a role in other health problems. A new study finds that high-salt diets can lead to issues with memory and thinking.
In this study, two groups of mice were fed diets with eight and sixteen times the normal amount of salt over a period of three months. Around the halfway point of the study, the mice in both groups began to show signs of cognitive impairment. They were having more difficulty navigating mazes and were unable to build their nests as well as they had. In human terms, this would be like being unable to dress ourselves or do proper housekeeping.
They found that high levels of salt caused the body to produce more of a protein called IL-17. When the body has too much IL-17, it can no longer supply blood to the brain properly. This can lead to cognitive issues.
The good news is that the mice’s cognitive skills returned to normal within a few weeks of being off the high-salt diet. This suggests that the harm associated with high amounts of salt is reversible. However, it should be noted that they were only on the diet for 3 months. Research has yet to find if there is a point of irreversible damage because of long-term, excess salt intake.
It’s important to keep track of salt intake. While humans do need salt to function properly, most of us consume much more than is necessary. It’s estimated that Americans consume five to six times more salt than the daily recommended allowance.
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Faraco, Giuseppe, et al. “Dietary Salt Promotes Neurovascular and Cognitive Dysfunction through a Gut-Initiated TH17 Response.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 15 Jan. 2018, www.nature.com/articles/s41593-017-0059-z.