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Most cravings are either sweet, salty or sometimes both. They can hit us out of nowhere, and when it does come around, it’s like a fly that keeps buzzing until we succumb to it. Like anything in health, reactions or symptoms are usually a sign of something else in the body. In the case of salt cravings, what exactly is causing them, and is a thyroid condition such as hypothyroidism the reason for it?
There is usually a salt and pepper shaker on almost every dinner table, be it at home or a restaurant. However, the desire to add salt to our diets was not commonplace for our ancestors as far back as 5 million years ago. To think about it in simplest terms, our ancestors did not have a salt shaker on their kitchen table. Nowadays, it’s common to both add salt to the food we are cooking and even sprinkle a bit more before taking a bite. The repeated use of salt became an experience that, once initially averted, has, over time, become a craving for more.
Some studies have found that our means for developing and maintaining body sodium and fluid homeostasis, or internal balance, evolved within warmer climates where dietary sodium, such as iodized salt, was scarce. For this and other reasons, the contemporary diet is high in extra salt, thus resulting in higher sodium levels among humans.
Although the minimum sodium requirement per person is arguable, it is known that each person needs 2 grams per day for proper body function. According to the FDA, 4 grams per day is recommended. However, in most developed countries, the salt intake for individuals averages about 10 grams daily. Thus far exceeding both the standard and necessary amounts of salt.
Sodium is an electrolyte mineral (Na) found in body fluids outside of cells. Its role is important for maintaining blood pressure, fluid balance, nerve conduction, and muscle contractions. When sodium levels are low, water begins to move back into the cells to help balance the levels. However, this can cause the cells to reabsorb too much water and swell.
Some symptoms of low sodium, or hyponatremia can include:
- fatigue and low energy
Thyroid hormones play a very central role in regulating sodium levels in the body. Through a mechanism called Na-K-ATPase pump, our kidneys help keep the sodium level in our bodies regulated, where Na is expressed as sodium and K is expressed as potassium. Because sodium is part of this mechanism, it is thus required to help facilitate the process of filtering, reabsorbing, and secreting excess fluid (via urine) from our bodies. When this pump is not functioning optimally, it results in a loss of minerals and electrolytes, such as sodium. A nutritional deficiency such as this can contribute to developing thyroid-based autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto's.
Severe hypothyroidism is one of the causes of a condition called Hyponatremia, where the concentration of sodium in the blood is abnormally low. Vice versa, having an underactive thyroid or low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism) can cause low blood sodium levels. A study of 71 patients with irregular thyroid levels revealed that thyroid abnormalities might disturb electrolyte balance. Along with low sodium levels, patients with hypothyroidism can also exhibit low potassium and calcium levels.
Those who tend to experience a craving for salt are more commonly associated with having an intention for thirst and not so much a need for salt. A single study concluded that total T4, total T3, and free T4 significantly improved with adequate hydration. With hydration comes nutrition and, more importantly, the intake of nutrient-dense foods. It is important to note that refueling our body's electrolyte levels with foods such as sea vegetables like seaweed or kelp and seafood can help us intake more sodium naturally.
In more severe or symptomatic cases, medications such as Levothyroxine can be promising in helping resolve electrolyte imbalance. One study found that when a patient was treated with Levothyroxine and electrolyte replacement therapy, their symptoms of hypothyroidism improved.
It is worth noting that routine checkups of your electrolytes should be a staple part of routine blood work as it is a beneficial way to support someone with hypothyroidism or autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's.
In general, the treatment of an electrolyte imbalance will vary depending on the patient's unique medical conditions and health history. In most cases, these conditions are readily resolved with proper rehydration, a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet, and in some cases, the use of thyroid medication.
Thyroid disease can be complex, so working with a healthcare practitioner who understands your unique condition is always a great place to start. Proper blood work and routine hormone testing can help you understand what may need more attention and replenishing to help gradually heal your body by lessening the severity of any present symptoms.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or are concerned if your thyroid levels should be more closely monitored, schedule a visit with a Paloma doctor to find out if you have any nutritional deficiencies that may need to be addressed.