The Effects of Drinking Salt Water

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Drinking salt water is never a good idea--it can lead to sickness, dehydration, brain damage and death. Although some claim there are cleansing benefits to drinking salt water, the negative side effects and health risks can be far too great. However, there are rarely occasions when the bulk of your diet would consist of salt water and, in moderation or when paired with fresh water, it is harmless. Consider the difference between sea salt and table salt, the important role salt plays within the body, and how easily dehydration can be avoided.

Salt plays an important role in the body, and dehydration can easily be avoided.
Salt plays an important role in the body, and dehydration can easily be avoided. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Function

Your body needs salt and water for basic function, growth and development--just not together. Water is essential to support human life and most of the processes within our bodies. Salt is critical to maintain water levels, to support the fluid surrounding our cells and to promote healthy blood flow. Salt preserves and expands blood cells to help them reach all parts of your body, to fight infection and disease, and to stabilize blood pressure. You know your blood contains salt because if you were to cut your finger and stick it in your mouth to stop the bleeding, it would taste salty.

However, consuming salt and drinking water is very different from drinking saltwater. A little saltwater is harmless, especially when you also fresh water--but a lot of saltwater will overwhelm the body and shut down the kidneys. Saltwater dehydrates your body, but as long as you stay hydrated you can still flush out excess sodium chloride.

A little saltwater is harmless, but too much can overwhel your body and shut down the kidneys.
A little saltwater is harmless, but too much can overwhel your body and shut down the kidneys. (Image: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Health Benefits

There are claims that drinking salt water has healthy benefits for the body: easing body pains, cleansing the blood and digestive tract, and serving as a detox for major organs. This may be true in moderation, but only when paired with the appropriate amount of fresh water and only with a home-made table salt mix. Saline solutions have healing benefits, cleansing and treating minor burns and wounds. Salt water may also fight infections so many people gargle with salt water to relieve sore throats, treat sores and prevent colds. In these cases, where you are not ONLY drinking salt water, your body can process the salt and won't become dehydrated. The effects should be beneficial without being harmful.

Drinking salt water in moderation could have health benefits for the body.
Drinking salt water in moderation could have health benefits for the body. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Health Risks

You hear about ship-wrecked sailors dying from drinking too much saltwater. This is true--your body cannot process and pass seawater very well and drinking it should be avoided at all costs. Even a small amount will cause diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration and make you delirious. According to Mayo Clinic nutritionists in Arizona, ocean water is approximately three times saltier than your blood, which makes it physically impossible for your body to process it safely. The major problem with drinking salt water is the dehydration effect, which can lead to seizures, brain damage, unconsciousness, comas and even death.

Ocean water is 3 times as salty as your blood.
Ocean water is 3 times as salty as your blood. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Sea Salt Vs. Table Salt

Sea salt and table salt have the same general makeup--both consist mostly of the minerals sodium and chloride and share the same nutritional value. But they are very different in taste, texture and processing. In the same effect, drinking sea salt water versus drinking homemade table salt water is different for your body. Although less natural, sea salt water contains much more sodium chloride than the home-made version. So which is better for you?

According to Mayo Clinic nutritionists, sea salt is healthier on its own since it is produced naturally through evaporated seawater with little processing and handling. Sea salt tends to be less refined and naturally contains other essential minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, iodine and magnesium. Table salt is mined from underground salt deposits and is usually processed into pure sodium chloride or an iodized form. Both forms of salt are available in coarse, fine and extra fine grain size and again, both will offer nutritional benefits in moderation.

As with anything you consume, the more organic the product the better for your body, so stick with sea salt when seasoning foods. When drinking salt water as a home remedy, table salt water will have fewer negative side effects because it will be a less potent mixture.

Sea salt versus table salt.
Sea salt versus table salt. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Considerations

The unhealthy habit of abusing and overeating salt without drinking enough fresh water has led to heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity in many people. It is recommended that you eat about 5g of salt each day (depending on your age, health, size, etc.) for natural upkeep of the necessary salt levels within the body. However, most Americans eat about 12 to 15g each day and their health shows the unnatural effects this can cause. People over 50, African Americans, people with hypertension and heart disease or kidney problems should avoid salt in their daily diets and focus instead on hydration. Drinking even just 6 oz. of fresh water every day will prevent the effects of dehydration.

Stay hydrated.
Stay hydrated. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

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