Fact or Myth: Does a High Salt Diet Cause Autoimmune Disease?

This is a FACT.

The fact that foods high in salt contribute to hypertension and heart disease is old news, but the notion that a high salt diet triggers the development of autoimmune disease is a recent news flash. High salt foods have now been scientifically implicated in the increase in autoimmune diseases, including the rise in alopecia, asthma, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and eczema.

Skip the Dash of SaltEat Less Salt

Recent research reveals that high salt foods, such as fast food and processed food, increase the production of a certain type of immune cell that has been linked to autoimmune disorders. Scientists at Yale University investigated the function of T-helper cells responsible for protecting the body against dangerous bacteria and viruses. Of particular interest were a subset of T-helper cells called Th17 cells that are involved in the body’s protective inflammation response. Unfortunately, these same immune cells have been linked to autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. In a person with an autoimmune disease, these immune cells don’t just attack pathogens; they attack healthy tissues.

Scientists discovered that when Th17 cells interacted with a solution of table salt they behaved much more aggressively. Researchers genetically engineered mice to develop multiple sclerosis. The mice fed a high salt diet had much worse symptoms than the mice fed a moderate salt diet. High salt intake corresponded with an increase in the number of inflammation-promoting Th17 cells in the nervous system.

Keep in mind that a high-salt diet isn’t the only driving factor. Autoimmune disease is caused by an interplay of many unhealthy choices: poor nutrition, vitamin D deficiency, smoking, too much salt…choices that will most certainly trigger the onset of autoimmune disorders in individuals genetically predisposed to conditions such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.

The High Salt Diet Craze

Researcher Dr. David Hafler became interested in the connection between salt and autoimmune disease when he was studying the gut microbiome. He noticed that people who ate at fast food restaurants more than once a week had significantly more destructive inflammatory cells raging through their bodies. Fast food and processed foods, such as microwave meals, account for much of the high sodium intake among Americans. What is the number one source of refined salt? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s bread!

Not All Salt Is Bad

Our bodies are made of salt—we shed salty tears and sweat salty perspiration—and mineral salts provide ions that keep our bodily functions balanced. The type of salt ingested, however, is of critical consideration.

Stay away from refined, processed and bleached salt that the body was not made to process. Add flavor with colored salt instead, such as pink Himalayan salt. Himalayan salt is purer than the more commonly used sea salt, which has become more and more tainted by ocean dumping and refining methods.