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Category: Natural chemicals



Introduction and description

Sodium is a chemical element with the symbol Na (from Latin: natrium). It is a soft, silver-white, highly reactive metal and is a member of the alkali metals. The free metal does not occur in nature, but it is the sixth most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and exists in numerous minerals such as feldspars, sodalite and rock salt (NaCl).

Sodium is an essential element for all animals and some plants. In animals, sodium ions are used against potassium ions to build up charges on cell membranes, allowing transmission of nerve impulses when the charge is dissipated. It is thus one of the key minerals controlling the physical nervous system which uses charge-carrying ions - sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl-), and calcium (Ca2+).  The need of animals for sodium has led to its being classified as a 'dietary inorganic macro-mineral'.



Diseases and illnesses associated with Sodium imbalance

All diseases and illnesses associated with sodium are due to either too much sodium or too little - an imbalance in supply and demand - the full description is provided in the overload section under the heading Sodium imbalance, which describes both deficiency and overdose both of which cause illness. 

Because of its role in the nervous system, all organs are dependent on sodium and work or malfunction according to whether it is in balance or not. Heart arrythmias for example can be caused by sodium imbalance, and blood volume, blood pressure, osmotic equilibrium and pH are dependent on it.

Wikipedia says [and this has its comical side] “the minimum physiological requirement for sodium is 500 milligrams per day. The DRI for sodium is 2.3 grams per day, but on average people in the United States consume 3.4 grams per day, the minimum amount that promotes hypertension; this in turn causes 7.6 million premature deaths worldwide”. Terrifying to know that Americans overdosing on salt causes so many deaths worldwide. As some wag in the audience once said to Bono, when he said at a concert 'every time I clap my hands a child in Africa dies', – 'then f**king stop it'! But it is true that overdosing on salt causes – like all overdosing of chemicals that can enter the blood stream - inflammation of the blood vessels leading to eventual endothelial dysfunction.

The renin-angiotensin system regulates the amount of fluids and sodium in the body. In effect it is the kidneys that determine the concentrations. We tend to become thirsty when we have eaten too much salt – the body lets us know it needs more water to flush it away. Interestingly it doesn't complain if we have too much water. 


Salt has been an important commodity in human activities, as shown by the English word salary, which derives from salarium, the wafers of salt sometimes given to Roman soldiers along with their other wages. In medieval Europe, a compound of sodium with the Latin name of sodanum was used as a headache remedy. The name sodium is thought to originate from the Arabic suda (صداع), meaning headache, as the headache-alleviating properties of sodium carbonate or soda were well known in early times.

Cheshire, in the UK, was once a major supplier of salt and houses still subside from underground workings which have lain dormant for years.  The salt was traded round the country and a very important trade existed between the Leeds/Sheffield area and the towns in Cheshire.  There is a well made path, now used by hikers, that crosses the Pennines and was once used by pack horses that carried salt.  One part is even called Jagger's clough.  In England someone who owned and/or managed a team of packhorses was known as a "jagger", so Mick Jagger's ancestors were probably salt carriers.

Dietary Sources

The two most important sources are table salt (NaCl), and baking soda (NaHCO3). Salt can also be found in a number of foodstuffs as a preservative. Other sources include: 

  • Soy sauce
  • Seaweed
  • Marmite
  • Salted fish including anchovies in oil, smoked salmon and caviar
  • Salted meats – hams, bacon, salted beef, salami, sausages, luncheon meats [canned], frankfurters, chorizo sausage, corned beef, pastrami, bologna
  • Cheese – blue, parmesan, cheese spreads etc
  • Pickled capers, olives, gherkins etc
Saltmine at Krakow










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