Salt and Your Bones

Salt and Your Bones

A guest post by Katie Bourbeau, Megan’s sister and medical student

During my basic sciences curriculum for medical school, I realized that nutrition is, unfortunately, not a major part of medical training. Small bits and pieces of the value of “good nutrition” are included in biochemistry, pathology, child development, neuroscience, etc. During my second year, a nutrition course was squeezed in to two weeks between pathology and infectious disease, but that was really it. My own personal physician admitted to me years ago that most doctors do not learn enough about nutrition to advise their patients of the best way to eat their way to a healthier lifestyle. However, there is one extremely important fact I learned I had never known about before: salt.

You’re probably thinking, everyone knows about salt.

The American diet is full of salt. It’s hidden in most processed foods. Most people generally know that. We know we should limit salt, but it is truly a challenging task to accomplish in our busy daily lives. However, what most people DO NOT know is that there are different kinds of salt out there. I’m not talking about sea salt versus standard table salt. Iodized vs non-iodized. Expensive but rare-and-can-cure-cancer-Himalayan-mountain salt (or whatever silly craze is happening these days).  I’m talking about acidic (sodium chloride) vs alkaline (potassium) salts.

Here’s the quick run-down of what I mean: most salt in processed foods and what we add for flavor is typically a sodium chloride salt. Natural salts, found in vegetables and fruits, are potassium based. Why do I feel the need to make this point? Because the kind of salt you consume affects your blood pressure, which many people know, but also importantly, salt affects BONE STRENGTH in the long run. Here’s a quick story that hopefully hits this point home:

In my medical nutrition class, we were studying milk consumption and bone mineral density in different populations in the world, mainly Western (American) diets vs non-Western diet. But wait, I thought we were talking salt? The story continues:  in The United States, we are obsessed with drinking milk to make strong bones. Millions of dollars are spent each year in advertising for milk. And yet, we have some of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world. But in regions where milk consumption is not emphasized, bone mineral density is healthier. This implies that there is something else key to long-term bone health. What researchers found is that while calcium consumption is important to bone health, the key difference between these two groups was the amount of VEGETABLES consumed. Here’s why:

The salt in vegetables is a potassium based salt. This means that when it gets into the body, a basic (i.e. alkaline) environment is favored. And your bones like a nice dip in that alkaline spa. It favors building bone and stops the breakdown (resorption) of bone. This means strong, healthy bones which are better able to resist pressure and force as we go through life, resulting in fewer bone breaks as a person ages. (3)

This is in stark contrast to the salt that we add to our foods to improve shelf life and flavor. Sodium salts are acidic. Acid breaks down bone. More salt in your diet means more salt in the blood, and more bone breakdown. (1) (5)

So, if you take anything away from this post, let it be this: it’s never too late to start making small changes in your diet. The next time you reach for that salt shaker, think twice. When trying to decide between a side of veggies or French fries (sodium bomb!), go for the veggies.

Good luck. Below are the references that support my argument for alkaline diets. Thank you readers!

  1. Jones G, Beard T, Parameswaran V, Greenaway T, von Witt R. A population-based study of the relationship between salt intake, bone resorption and bone mass. European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition [serial online]. August 1997;51(8):561-565. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 21, 2016

  2. Wong M, Arcand J, Campbell N, et al. The Science of Salt: A Regularly Updated Systematic Review of Salt and Health Outcomes (August to November 2015). Journal Of Clinical Hypertension (Greenwich, Conn.) [serial online]. July 26, 2016

  3. Buehlmeier J, Frings-Meuthen P, Heer M, et al. Alkaline salts to counteract bone resorption and protein wasting induced by high salt intake: results of a randomized controlled trial. The Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology And Metabolism [serial online]. December 2012;97(12):4789-4797. 

  4. Remer T. High salt intake: detrimental not only for blood pressure, but also for bone health?. Endocrine [serial online]. August 2015;49(3):580-582. 

  5. Liang M, Navidi M, Cleek T, Arnaud S. Dietary salt, bone strength, and mineral content in unloaded rat femurs. Aviation, Space, And Environmental Medicine [serial online]. October 2011;82(10):941-945.

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