How salt affects the gut microbiome and what you can do about it

America must pinch its salty habits soon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 75 million American adults have high blood pressure and is costing the nation almost $46 billion annually. Excessive consumption of salt is known to cause hypertension and unnatural inflammation of the hands and feet. Furthermore, a recent study from the Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) and Hasselt University led by Professor Markus Kleinewietfeld found that excessive consumption of salt negatively affects beneficial intestinal microorganisms or gut flora.

Salt kills good bacteria

Lactobacillales, or lactic acid bacteria (LAB), are beneficial intestinal microorganisms that produce helpful enzymes and have antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. This healthy bacterial flora enhances the functions of the digestive system and increases vitamin levels. In the study Salt-responsive gut commensal modulates TH17 axis and disease, researchers found that a high-salt diet generates detrimental immune cells, causes problems to experimental autoimmunity, and negatively alters gut bacteria. Salt destroys lactobacilli in the intestines and reduces the bacteria that metabolize harmful immune cells. These detrimental immune cells, called TH17, are believed to be associated with the development of hypertension (high blood pressure) and autoimmunity (immune responses that attack its own healthy body). (Related: The health of your gut microbiome could predict your risk of heart disease, researchers find.)

The interdisciplinary team involved with the study include Kleinewietfeld from VIB; professor Dominik Müller from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, professor Ralf Linker from the University of Erlangen; and professor Eric Alm from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their research, published in Nature, states that the Lactobacillus murinus microorganisms in mice become depleted when exposed to high intakes of salt. The studies in humans showed the same decrease in population of the bacteria.

On the bright side, the effects of a high-salt diet on the gut microbiome can be reversed with help from probiotics which are easily bought in stores. However, this does not mean that people should continue with a high-salt diet since salt also decimates the lactobacilli provided by the probiotic. Researchers state that further studies must be conducted to create a complex understanding of the relationships between food intake, gut bacteria, and immunity in its role in disease.

Change your eating habits to prevent disease

Many studies have already proven the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition choices. Most modern-day diseases are caused by physical inactivity and poor food choices such as soda, fast food, junk food, and microwaveable dinner packs. Low-salt diets decrease the risk of hypertension and other negative health events caused by salt. Nutritional plans such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet are created to minimize the salt intake of individuals who have a higher risk (genetics, family history) of hypertension and other cardiovascular and blood diseases. Another way to keep your gut healthy is by taking probiotics regularly. Probiotics can be bought in almost all pharmacies and even grocery stores in many different brands. These highly beneficial drinks contain millions of microorganisms that replenish your body’s supply of lactobacilli, which help your body fight disease.

There are many ways to avoid excessive salt intake and many delicious foods that don’t need salt at all. Instead of using regular table salt, make use of herb and spices. Instead of buying fast food, prepare your meals – this way you get to regulate the ingredients. For more information on healthy food and healthy recipes, visit

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