Sodium chloride, the chemical name of common salt, contains 39% of sodium, an element which never occurs in free form in nature. It is found in an associated form with many minerals especially in plentiful amounts with chlorine. The body of a healthy person weighing about 65 kilogram contains 256 grams of sodium chloride. Of this the major part, just over half, is in the extracellular fluid. About 96 gram is in bone and less than 32 gram in the cells.
Sodium is the most abundant chemical in the extracellular fluid of the body. It acts with other electrolytes, especially potassium, in the intracellular fluid, to regulate the osmotic pressure and maintain a proper water balance within the body. It is a major factor in maintaining acid base equilibrium, in transmitting nerve impulses, and in relaxing muscles. It is also required for glucose absorption and for the transport of other nutrients across cell membranes. Sodium can help prevent catarrh. It promotes a clear brain, resulting in a better deposition and less mental fatigue. Because of its influence on calcium, sodium can also help dissolve any stones forming within the body. It is also essential for the production of hypochlorous acid in the stomach and plays a part in many other glandular secretions.
There is some natural salt in every food we eat. Vegetables foods rich in sodium are celey, cucumbers, watermelon, lemons, oranges, grapefruit, beet-tops, cabbage, lady’s fingers, apple, berries, peers, squash, pumpkin, peaches, lentils, almonds and walnuts. Animal food sources include; shellfish, lean beef, kidney, bacon and cheese.
The sodium chloride requirements for persons living in tropics have been estimated at 10 to 15 gram per day for adults who are engaged in night work and 15 to 20 gram for those engaged in hard work. The requirement for children are from 5 to 10 and those for adolescence boys and girls from 10 to 25 gram.
Both deficiency and excess of salt may produce adverse effect on human body. Deficiencies of sodium, however, are and may be caused by excessive sweating, prolonged use of laxatives or chronic diarrhoea. Deficiency may lead to nausea, muscular weakness, heat exhaustion, mental apathy and respiratory failure. Over supply of sodium is a more common problem because of overuse of dietary sodium chloride or common salt. Too much sodium may lead to water retention, high blood pressure, stomach ulcer, stomach cancer, hardening of arteries and heart disease.
In case of mild deficiency of sodium chloride, taking a teaspoon of common salt in one half litre of water or any fruit juice quickly restore the health. In severe conditions, however, administration of sodium chloride in the form of normal saline by intravenous drip may be restored to. The adverse effects of excessive use of sodium chloride can be rectified by avoiding the use of common salt.