salty and stressed - new findings in fuel

Dec 2

It's no secret to those who know me well that I'm a bit of a data geek. Over the years this has led me into an ongoing single subject "quasi-experiment", aka "my day-to-day life". However, my personal belief is that everyone is actually running this same experiment - that is, each and every day we do things, and over time (minutes, hours, days, years, etc), we get a response - I just try to notice and track as many responses as possible and share them with those who might benefit. As the technology has improved, especially wearables (which I've written about previously), the tracking has gotten more refined.

Recently, one of the responses I've been exploring, although admittedly not fully understanding, is the connection between salty food intake and less restful sleep. On days I give into that craving for something salty (popcorn is a go-to) while enjoying something streamed on TV before bedtime, I notice a consistent increase in my "stress score" as I sleep; which is my wearable's way of telling me the volume knob on my nervous system has been turned up a little too high or in technical terms my autonomic nervous system has become sympathetically dominant as measured by suppressed heart rate variability - that's a lot. I assumed it might have something to do with the impact salt has on the blood vessels, a well-known driver of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in those that consume too much salt, which was recently confirmed again in a massive study of more than 175,000 adults. Those who sprinkled salt on their food "most days" were at least 20% more likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who did so only occasionally. A different study out this week, however, makes me think there's more to it than that.

As it turns out, researchers who tried to uncover the mechanism behind the observation that sustained high salt intake drove stress hormone changes (such as in long-term spaceflight simulation), found a direct connection between salt intake and the stress response. Not only were the baseline hormonal markers of the stress response increased within a few weeks, the actual response, that is, the rush of chemicals that create the fight/flight/freeze behavior we've all felt when we click from stress to distress, was doubled! Although, as an animal study it's not directly transferrable, it's an important step that reiterates the connection between FUEL and FEEL and possibly even our risk of injury, illness, and disease.

2 weeks ago we wrote about the consumption of fatty foods sensitizing the pain response. This week salty foods appear to drive us toward distress. Neither fat nor salt is inherently "bad" - in truth we can't function without them - however, too much of a good thing can easily nudge us out of balance and further away from thriving. Beware the ultra-processed food.

It can be tricky this time of year, but it's never a bad time to "FUEL Good".

Have a great weekend,

Mike E.