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Important News about Salt and Multiple Sclerosis

salt and multiple sclerosis

The amount of salt you consume can have a significant impact on your health, especially if you have multiple sclerosis. How much salt can be harmful for people with MS, what damage can it do, and how can you reduce your salt intake?


People with multiple sclerosis who want to feel better and tone down their disease activity should consider pushing away the salt shaker. That’s the word from the authors of a new study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

Experts have been telling us for years that too much salt (sodium; table salt contains 40% sodium) can be bad for the heart because it can hike up blood pressure and cause fluid retention. This latter problem can be dangerous for people who have kidney or heart conditions.

Some research has even suggested that too much salt can be associated with asthma and type 1 diabetes. But can it be true that too much salt can be bad for multiple sclerosis?

Yes, say the international team of scientists who hail from Boston and Argentina. They are not the first to find a relationship between salt consumption and autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis). Since multiple sclerosis is in the same category, a goal of this study was to determine if salt/sodium has a direct effect on this disease as well.

Salt consumption and multiple sclerosis
Two groups of individuals with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis participated in the two-year study: one group of 70 patients and another of 52. In the first group, blood and urine sample were collected after one year and analyzed for levels of sodium, creatinine (an indicator of inflammation), and vitamin D. Other information gathered during the follow-up period included clinical and radiological data. The second group of participants provided urine samples only.

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Here’s what the researchers found:

  • Participants in both groups averaged slightly more than 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of salt per day. Table salt contains 40 percent sodium, and 1 teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium, which is the recommended limit for healthy adults. For adults with high blood pressure, the recommended limit is 1,500 mg daily. These figures come from the US Department of Agriculture, the American Diabetes Association, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • When individuals who consumed the least amount of salt daily (less than 2 g) were compared with those who ate a moderate (2.0-4.8 g) or high (more than 4.8 g) amount, those in the latter group had about three more episodes of symptoms progressing and a fourfold greater chance of experiencing exacerbating symptoms
  • There was radiological proof (using magnetic resonance imaging, MRI) that those who consumed higher amounts of salt had greater signs of deterioration. In fact, patients with high salt intake were 3.4 times as likely to have signs of further disease progression; that is, a greater chance of developing a new lesion

More about salt and MS
Along with controlling blood pressure, sodium also has a role in making sure the nerves and muscles work properly. Previous research has shown us that exposing immune system cells (helper T cells) to high levels of sodium chloride caused the cells to become pro-inflammatory cells that have been associated with MS. In addition, mouse models of MS who were exposed to high amounts of salt showed accelerated damage to their nerves.

Thus far the evidence suggests that salt (sodium) has a negative impact on multiple sclerosis, which means it may be time to reduce your salt intake. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use herbs and spices instead of reaching for the salt shaker. In fact, remove the salt shakers from your home!
  • Do not add salt to foods when cooking. Instead, try herbs or spices
  • Choose fresh foods over processed items whenever possible
  • If you buy processed foods, look for sodium- or salt-free
  • Read nutritional labels on everything you buy for sodium content
  • If you eat out, ask for no-salt or low-salt options. Unfortunately, if the restaurant uses processed foods, the salt is likely already in the menu item, even if the server tells you the item has no added salt. Bring your own no-salt seasonings with you
  • Share no-salt and low-salt recipes with your friends. Make it fun!

You may be able to better manage multiple sclerosis by monitoring your intake of dietary salt. So toss that salt shaker over your shoulder and perk up your foods with herbs and spices.

Also read about table salt vs sea salt

Farez MF et al. Sodium intake is associated with increased disease activity in multiple sclerosis. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 2014 Aug 28

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