The next time you dip your hand into a bag of potato chips, perhaps it’s because you’re depressed. If what researchers are saying is true, salt can be a natural anti-depressant.
Earlier this month, a University of Iowa research team found that sodium-deprived rats have very little interest in daily activities that they previously used to enjoy, such as drinking a sugary substance or pressing a bar that stimulates a pleasant sensation in their brains.
“A salt deficit and the cravings associated with it can induce one of the key symptoms associated with depression,” said Kim Johnson, a psychologist at the University of Iowa, who spearheaded the investigative team. “But let the rats have salt again, and they’re all happy”
The findings are not recommending that people use salt as an antidepressant. However, it does suggest that a possible reason for consuming so much salt is that our body rewards us with feelings of wellbeing. No one is advising, either, that you stock up on highly salted, processed foods to cheer yourself up. The results of this study are very preliminary and the connection between salt and mood is just starting to be fleshed out. There is, however, very clear evidence linking sodium with heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
The study also noted that while salt appears to act as a natural anti-depressant, it is so much so that humans now abuse the substance like an addictive drug. Even though we know there are adverse health effects from ingesting too much sodium, it is difficult to get away from consuming mass quantities. “This suggests that salt need and cravings may be linked to the same brain pathways as those related to drug addiction and abuse,”Johnson said.
It is important to point out that none of the studies indicate that salt deprivation causes clinical depression, or that people with clinical depression could improve their symptoms by eating more salt.
While the research on the salt and mood connection continues, it will be interesting to track the reactions of the food and restaurant industries to this data. Will they use this information to sabotage the American food supplies and infuse even more sodium into their products than ever before? As it is, the author indicates that 77 percent of our salt intake comes from packaged, processed and restaurant foods, which are all laden with sodium. Salt may become the new, secret marketing weapon.
But for now, pass the chips … and Prozac, please.