Live Heart Healthy. Live Well & Live Long


by | Jul 23, 2013

While I was watching an old movie the other day, I came up with a good way to explain why we should not be adding salt to our food. This idea ties into explaining the term not physiologic, used by Dr. Dahl in reference to our habit of adding salt to our food.  Remember Dr. Dahl?  He spent decades at Brookhaven National Institute and contributed immensely to our knowledge about high blood pressure. The American Heart Association (AHA), in honor of his lifelong contributions, instituted the prestigious Lewis K. Dahl Memorial Lecture delivered at an AHA conference each year.
Dahl’s message through the term not physiologic was to clearly tell us that our body is not made to handle excess salt. To explain what Dr. Dahl meant, let us go back to the movie Ramayana which I was watching.  This, movie, with its story line depicting the timeless battle between good and evil, is well known in the Indian subcontinent. I must have seen some variation of this movie at least a thousand times since my childhood. As the story goes, the good guy Lord Rama is in a seemingly everlasting battle with the demon king Ravana.  This demon king Ravana cannot be killed that easily because he has ten heads and many arms.  Most interestingly, every time Lord Rama cuts his head off, Ravana grows another one. This goes on and on until Lord Rama figures out a different way of killing Ravana.

I am sure similar mythological stories are prevalent in many cultures and even in comic books. The part of this timeless story that is pertinent to our discussion is this: We are not made like Ravana. We are built with only one heart, one brain, one liver, one head, and a pair of arms, legs and kidneys. No replacement parts. And unlike Ravana, we cannot regrow any of these organs if we lose them.  So if you subject your body to what it is not designed to deal with—as in consuming salt which is not physiologic to our body—the damage could be permanent.

Our vital organs do compensate to some extent for the un-physiologic activities we subject it to, but only to a point. Consider obesity and kidney function. The kidneys, which regulate the balance of fluids in chemicals in our body while clearing out waste materials, are made of a finite number of working units called glomeruli. These glomeruli act as filters. As you can see in the picture, the glomerulus keeps getting bigger and bigger to compensate for obesity. After a certain point, however, the dramatic overgrowth stops and kidney function can no longer keep up with the obesity.

We are not made like the demon king Ravana. The kidney cannot simply grow more glomeruli.  The end result: the obese person experiences one of the most dreaded  complications: kidney failure.

Kidney failure is just one of the many preventable illnesses we suffer because of our consumption of salt, this clearly not physiologic substance for our bodies.. Let us not pretend like we are built like Ravana. We should strive harder to nourish our bodies correctly and protect the limited capacity of our vital organs.

The above picture courtesy of:

Dr. Sankar D Navaneethan, MD, MPH
Nephrology and Hypertension
Cleveland Clinic


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