Sodium chloride (NaCl), also known as table salt, is an essential compound required by the body. It is widely used in the cooking and food industry. Also, it has other household and industrial uses, such as the manufacturing of cleaning solutions. In medicine, sodium chloride is used in different forms, such as an injection, solutions, drops. Salt is essential for the body to function, however too much and too little salt can cause health problems. Salt is an inorganic compound (doesn’t come from living matter). It is made when sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl) come together. Sodium is different from salt. Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral found in several fruits, vegetables, and other foods. Sodium is essential for the body and a good percent of the dietary sodium is obtained from salt.
The main functions of sodium chloride in the body are:
How is sodium chloride used medically?
- Intravenous injection (IV drip): Intravenous or IV saline in 0.9% concentration may be used to treat dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. It may also be mixed with glucose.
- Saline flushes: To flush, cleanse, and remove any blockage by injecting into catheters and after intravenous medication.
- Nasal wash/irrigation and nasal sprays or drops: Used to cleanse the nose to get rid of mucus, crusts, debris, and germs. It is frequently used to relieve nasal congestion and in the post-operative period to clear the nose of blood clots, mucus, debris, and germs.
- Ear wash/irrigation: Used to cleanse the ear to remove any discharge, debris, foreign body, or wax.
- Eye wash/irrigation and eye drops: It can be used to cleanse/flush the eyes to clear out debris. Drops may be used to reduce redness, tearing, discomfort, and keeping the eyes moist.
- Wound cleaning: It is used to cleanse wounds.
- Sodium chloride inhalation: It can help form mucus, making it easier to cough out. This can particularly help in dry, painful cough.
There are over the counter saline drops and solutions available. Besides these, other forms of using saline require a doctor’s consultation. Different types of saline solutions contain different ratios of sodium chloride to water. One may consult with a doctor about what is suitable based on the purpose of use.
Other uses of sodium chloride:
The most common use for salt is in food. Its uses include:
- Food seasoning
- Natural preservative
- Helps enhance the natural colors of foods
- Curing, or preserving, meats
- Marinating foods
- Cleaning pots and pans
- Preventing the formation of mold
- Removing stains and grease
- Salting roads in the winter to prevent or melt ice
How much salt should you eat?
40% of sodium is essential for the body, and it comes from salt. The American Dietary Guidelines recommend that sodium consumption should be less than 2,300 mg per day, hence salt consumption per day should be less than 5 grams. Often people tend to go over that by consuming excessive salt, around 9 to 12 grams per day via pickles, chips, and bakery items. Sodium and salt intake can be limited by eating unprocessed foods and eating home-cooked meals. Doctors may recommend some people to take a low sodium diet based on their medical condition.
What happens if you consume too much salt?
Though salt is essential for the body, consuming too much salt is associated with:
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Kirkendall AM, Connor WE, Abboud F, Rastogi SP, Anderson TA, Fry M. The Effect of Dietary Sodium Chloride on Blood Pressure, Body Fluids, Electrolytes, Renal Function, and Serum Lipids of Normotensive Man. J Lab Clin Med. March 1976;87(3):411-34. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1249473/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Role of Potassium and Sodium in Your Diet. https://www.cdc.gov/salt/potassium.htm