Perhaps no nutrient is as misunderstood as sodium. If you played a word association game with any knowledgeable person and uttered the word "sodium," the typical response would be "blood pressure." Sodium is closely associated with the control of blood pressure in that an excessive intake of the mineral can lead to elevated blood pressure, or hypertension. However, this scenario is not quite as simple as it appears. The reason for the close association between sodium and blood pressure is that sodium has a close association with water. You can say that where there is sodium, there is also water. The thought is that ingesting excessive amounts of sodium causes a level of water retention in the body. Since sodium is the primary arbiter of extracellular fluid volume, or the amount of fluid that exists in the body outside cells, when an excess amount of sodium exists, such as through dietary ingestion, the extracellular fluid volume expands to an extent that it increases the pressure placed on blood vessel walls, and that is what causes hypertension. But again, it's just not that simple. For one, the body has a number of mechanisms that tightly regulate the amount of sodium it retains. This is vital because sodium, among other effects, also is required for nerve transmission. In this sense, sodium functions mainly outside of cells, while another mineral, potassium, is the primary intracellular mineral. When the two minerals exchange places, this sets up the scenario for neural transmission. Of course, that's a highly simplified explanation of how the process works, but it does illustrate why sodium is so vital for health and life.
Although sodium has a more negative connotation these days, it wasn't always like that. To ancient Romans, sodium as salt was used as money is today. It was considered a rare and valuable commodity back then. Sodium is not the same as what we recognize as salt. Salt is composed of two minerals, sodium and chloride, as such the chemical name for common table salt is sodium chloride. Indeed, some researchers say that it's the chloride portion of salt that is the true cause of health problems associated with salt, rather than the sodium portion. Still, you cannot escape the fact the when there is sodium present, there is also water. An interesting fact is that kosher salt contains half as much sodium as regular table salt. Another factoid of interest is that because people have become more conscience of their salt intake, signs of iodine deficiency have recently rose. For many people, iodized salt, or salt that has added iodine is their only source of the essential mineral, iodine.
From an athletic and bodybuilding point of view, sodium plays a critical role. Most bodybuilders are well aware of the relationship of sodium to water retention in the body. Indeed, the primary cause of the bloating effect produced by high dose anabolic steroid regimes is related . . .