Time to Table the Salt? How Salt May Be Affecting Your Microbiome


The American Diet is known for its high salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), content. Between processed foods like macaroni and cheese, preserved meats, and fast foods, you could say America has a bit of sodium problem. When it comes to salt, what we know has been very straight-forward, but now we’re seeing how your sodium intake can relate to the health of your gut microbiome, too.

When you consume foods high in salt, the food passes through your digestive system and into your intestines, where most of your nutrients are absorbed and released into your blood. Excessive levels of sodium in your bloodstream can have very harmful health effects. It can cause many serious conditions like hypertension, or high blood pressure. 1 Hypertension is known as a silent killer because most people can live for years without experiencing any symptoms. However, if left untreated, hypertension can increase your risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack or stroke. More recently, salt intake has been linked to inflammatory conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and autoimmune disorders, and now the list even extends to our gut health. 2

Health specialists around the world may have known sodium can upset cardiovascular health, but more recently scientists have identified a distinct relationship between sodium intake and the livelihood of salt-sensitive microbes. 3 Some studies suggested that when we ingest high levels of sodium, it can damage beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus murinus in our microbiome and change their microbial activity. 4 Now, through Viome’s new
Salt Stress Pathway assessment, we can measure and identify the activity of microbial pathways that signal excessive salt in the gut environment and see if the salt is affecting your digestion and how it’s impacting the health of your gut.

The Gut Balancing Act

Our microbiome exists in a delicate balance of competing organisms working together to maintain the health of their environment: our gastrointestinal system. When the environmental conditions change, it can impact the health of all our microbes. In the microbiome world, the things we consume also provide nutrients to our gut bacteria. Although each of us may respond differently to individual foods, what we eat directly affects the health of our microbiota.  By consuming foods that are healthy for us as an individual, beneficial microbes thrive. When we consume foods that are unhealthy for us, pathogenic bacteria take the lead, choking out the good bacteria and all the positive things they do.

The Lactobacillus family of bacteria are warriors against sickness in our gut. They have been known to maintain the health of our gut lining and protect against many pathogenic microorganisms looking for a place to thrive. When their activity decreases due to a high sodium diet, inflammation levels rise and our gut lining thins. This thinning process makes it easier for bacteria to penetrate the walls of our digestive tract allowing many microorganisms to travel through our bodies in places they don’t belong. Sometimes, this causes the transport of bacteria into our kidneys, leading to renal issues. 5 Additional studies have proposed this may contribute to hypertension issues where the kidneys play a key role in removing excess sodium from our body.

The main role of the Lactobacillus group is to produce butyrate, a short chain fatty acid that is the favorite food of our intestinal cells. Butyrate has been directly linked to supporting a healthy GI system by helping our intestinal cells grow and replicate normally. When the production of butyrate goes down, the health of our intestinal cells diminishes and can increase the risk of gastrointestinal disease. Some disorders, like Crohn’s or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, result from low activity of the Lactobacillus family members. Scientific experts have discussed that supplementing with probiotics that support these microbes can alleviate symptoms. As high dietary salt intake has been shown to hurt Lactobacillus families, reducing salt consumption may improve GI discomfort and lower gut inflammation. 6

It’s easy to see why consuming too much sodium can have a large impact on your heart health, but new research shows there may be more to it than we thought before. Dietary salt can harm the delicate balance and ecosystem of our gut microbiome. This balance hangs on our dietary choices. Poor nutritional habits can slowly deteriorate our gut lining and starve out healthy bacteria. They can also attract pathogenic microbes and heighten levels of inflammation. Now, scientists are finding they can even influence the health of our cardiovascular and renal systems. But the damage done today can be repaired. Focusing on healthier foods and limiting the amount of salt we eat can make a profound impact. Just as easily as we can harm our microbiome balance, we can influence good change and promote healthy microbial activity simply by making healthier dietary choices.

Discover What Is Happening Inside Of You

When it comes to salt, many of us may not feel the immediate impact it has on our system; but science has proven it can tip the scales and cause negative consequences. With the new Salt Stress Pathway assessment, we can provide a measurable assessment of salt-sensitive microbial activity. This kind of signaling activity, when high, suggests that you may need to adjust your salt or sodium intake, or even address your hydration levels. A good score means that the pathway levels that signal microbial salt stress are low and you are not consuming excessive amounts of salt for your gut microbiome.

Viome offers an in-depth review of the level of microbial activity that occurs inside you and each function. Our Health Intelligence Test aims at giving you early insight into your overall health to help you make changes to keep you healthy. Taking action now may educate you on where you stand today and help you build a healthier tomorrow.