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One Major Side Effect of Eating Too Much Salt, New Study Says

Adding to heart and blood pressure problems, researchers now say too much salt hurts your immunity.

A lot of you were recently surprised to learn about the toxic fat that's more harmful than cholesterol. In other news on unexpected nutrition dangers, a study has just discovered that the amount of salt you eat could make you more vulnerable to illness from bacteria (like this deadly food poisoning from pasta) and viruses (like COVID-19).

A newly published study in the journal Circulation sought to deepen understanding that scientists gained from a study in 2015. In that previous study, the research team discovered that elevated amounts of sodium in the blood affected how a certain type of white blood cell prepares to react when it senses an unhealthy cell. But even at the conclusion of that study, says Dr. Sabrina Geisberger of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB), the scientists "still didn't know what was happening in the cells."

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So for the new study, Geisberger's team examined "the metabolism of immune cells that had been exposed to high salt concentrations," according to a release. This time, they learned more about how salt impacts immunity: "It disrupts the respiratory chain, causing the cells to produce less ATP and consume less oxygen," Geisberger explains.

ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is defined in the release as "the universal fuel that powers all cells," providing energy for muscle power and metabolic regulation—meaning that if a high sodium level in the body causes short supply of ATP, it affects how these white blood cells mature… and, in turn, how effectively those white blood cells, which are largely responsible for the body's immune response, are able to function.

So how much salt is safe to eat each day? According to this study: "Nutrition experts recommend that adults limit their daily intake to five or six grams at most. The calculation includes the salt that is hidden in processed foods."

Need another reason to watch your salt intake? Read how salt actually increases your heart disease risk as you age.

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more about Krissy