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Is Salt Causing Inflammation and Autoimmune Disease?

March 7, 2013

We’ve long known that too much salt in your diet is a bad thing. The overconsumption of sodium, unfortunately common in the Standard American Diet of fast food and highly processed packaged goods, has been strongly linked to high blood pressure, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.

Now there’s even more reason to ditch the canned soup and frozen meals in favor of fresh, whole foods: several new studies show that too much salt can contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and arthritis of the spine.

According to new reports from teams at MIT, Harvard, and Yale, mice on a high-salt diet produced a type of inflammatory, infection-fighting cell that can cause the body’s defense system to go horribly awry. The mice then developed a severe form of multiple sclerosis called autoimmune encephalomyelitis. “We were all really quite surprised to see how changes in dietary salt could have such a profound effect,” said David Hafler, professor of immunobiology at Yale.

Though these findings are still preliminary and have not been studied in humans, some scientists already believe that a low-salt diet might help prevent and treat autoimmune disease. “If I had an autoimmune disease, I would put myself on a low-salt diet now,” said Hafler. “It’s not a bad thing to do. But we have to do more studies to prove it.”

It’s no news that dietary changes can have an enormous impact on inflammation and autoimmune disorders. As Integrative Nutrition visiting teacher and functional medicine expert Dr. Mark Hyman argues in Ultrawellness, “Hidden inflammation run amok is the root of all chronic illness: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, cancer, and even autism.”

The solution? It’s been proven that anti-inflammatory diets can often prevent, if not cure, many forms of chronic illness. Hydrogenated and trans fats, refined sugar, food additives, and too much red meat all cause inflammation; trading these foods in for a whole, unprocessed diet that emphasizes lots of fresh leafy greens and healthy fats like olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids can do wonders for your health. If you’re really interested in upping up your game, try these 5 foods that fight inflammation.

Do you limit your salt intake? How has it changed the way you feel?