The Truth About Salt and Your Digestion

I specialize in digestive health, so you may be wondering why this post about salt. Salt is all about high blood pressure, and it’s always bad, right? Nope, wrong on both counts.  Salt has a lot to do with good digestion, and there is actually very little research to connect salt with high blood pressure. Here’s the deal…..

Good digestion begins in the stomach. If the stomach environment is unbalanced, everything downstream will be adversely affected.  People are often surprised when they come to me with common digestive problems like gas and bloating, and I treat their stomach by stimulating proper gastric secretions. This miraculously solves their intestinal problems.  And even more surprising, people with acid reflux, who are inevitably told to buffer their stomach acid, respond positively to the same treatment.  Why?  (Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the salt issue.)

The stomach is designed to secrete hydrochloric acid (HCL.) This acid has several important functions.  It kills many pathogens including bacteria, fungi, and yeast. This is why people who have low HCL secretion or who use antacids, frequently fall prey to “stomach flu” and food poisoning episodes.  HCL also renders proteins more digestible, and makes minerals more assimilable.  Because partially digested proteins are a cause of food allergies, low stomach acid is sometimes the root of this problem too.

The reason people with low stomach acid (we call it hypochlorhydria,) often get heartburn and reflux, is that much of the food they eat sits in the stomach too long and ferments.  It is this rapidly fermenting mass, worsened by yeast promoting sugars and carbohydrates, that causes pressure on the esophageal sphincter and discomfort from secondary acids (in other words, heartburn.)  You can see how more Tums or prescription antacids only provide temporary relief and make the problem worse in the long run.

The solution is twofold: First, stop buffering your stomach. Next, start practicing  dietary habits that promote proper HCL secretion and a healthy stomach lining.  Here’s where the salt comes in. We need adequate amounts of chloride to produce hydrochloric acid. The best source of chloride is salt.  There is very little available from any other foods (just a trace in celery and coconut.) People who are on salt restricted diets end up with hypochlorhydria and compromised digestion.  Since there is no definitive research linking salt to high blood pressure, why deprive yourself of this vital nutrient?

Now please be aware that by “salt” I’m not talking about that refined white powder that the food industry calls salt.  This is purified sodium chloride and is completely stripped of its nutrients and trace minerals.  This also means that loading up on processed foods (that are loaded with refined salt,) won’t help either.  What you should look for is unrefined Celtic Sea Salt.  It should meet the following two criteria: 1) it should be grey, not white. Salt that is pure white, even if it says sea salt, is refined and therefore not nutrient dense. 2) it should be moist. That’s right, it should be a little soggy in the jar.  This is from the magnesium salts that natural unrefined salt contains.  Anything other than this real unrefined mineral rich salt, will not help.

Other things you can do to restore proper stomach function:

1) Stop taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like Advil, Motrin, etc.) These interfere with the stomach lining’s capacity to heal.

2) To heal an inflamed stomach or upper digestive tract, take DGL tablets.  This is a type of licorice root that not only helps heal the digestive tract, but is active against pathogens like the H. Pylori bacterium.

3) Eat naturally fermented foods, or take a supplement to restore healthy levels of friendly bacteria in the gut.

4) To further stimulate normal levels of HCL, take herbal digestive bitters before each meal.

5) Consider seeing a natural health care practitioner who specializes in digestive health, to get on a protocol that is customized for your particular symptoms and condition.

Meanwhile, put that salt dish right back on the table where grandmother always had it.

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