Good News For People Who Love Salty Foods

Nobody has any idea what the salt is doing in your body.

Image: Leonid Mamchenkov

Salt. You know it’s bad because it tastes so good. You’re not supposed to have too much of it in one day or you’ll get hypertension and heart attacks and that burning feeling on your tongue. It also makes you retain water. Or does it? Turns out the scientists are not sure.

Some new studies on Russian cosmonauts in isolation tested what happened when they had high, medium, and low levels of salt in their diets. They measured the salt in their blood and urine and also the volume of their urine. Weirdly, the cosmonauts were LESS thirsty on the high-salt diets, and MORE hungry??? This feels intuitively right to me, and indeed some scientists later in the article posit that the “thirst” being cultivated by bar nuts and salty snacks is actually just a kind of a physical urge to drink, or consume. Anyway the best part of the article is various other scientists reading the findings and reacting to them:

Dr. James R. Johnston, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, marked each unexpected finding in the margins of the two papers. The studies were covered with scribbles by the time he was done.

“Really cool,” he said, although he added that the findings need to be replicated.

Science is indeed really cool, but there is something sort of alarming about how calmly in stride the salt scientists are taking this one:

Why Everything We Know About Salt May Be Wrong

“The work suggests that we really do not understand the effect of sodium chloride on the body,” said Dr. Hoenig.

We know nothing! Eat some potato chips.