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Action on Salt

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Acute Toxic Effects

Hypernatremia is a term used to describe an abnormally high sodium level in the blood. It can be common in the elderly, especially those living in nursing homes, as a result of dehydration (1).

However, isolated cases of deaths, caused by excess ingestion of table salt leading to hypernatremia, have been reported across all age ranges. These are summarised below:

Children (<5 years) 

19 reported fatalities

  • 12 cases - salt used to induce vomiting
  • 3 cases - salt was mistaken for sugar
  • 3 cases - exorcism rituals
  • 1 case - unknown

Range of salt ingested: 34.5-1016g salt

 

Children (5-10 years)

1 fatality

A girl was fed a minimum of 5 teaspoons of salt by her parents, equivalent to 11.4g sodium or 29g salt

 

Adolescents (10-18 years)

No reported fatalities

 

Adults (19-83 years)

19 reported fatalities

  • 12 cases - salt used to induce vomiting
  • 3 cases - salt was mistaken for sugar
  • 3 cases - exorcism rituals
  • 1 case - unknown

Range of salt ingested: 34.5-1016g salt

 

By limiting salt intake to a maximum of 6g per day and staying properly hydrated, hypernatremia can be avoided.

Current Salt Intake & Dietary Advice

Almost everyone in the UK (and the rest of the Western world) eats too much salt. The daily recommended amount in the UK is no more than 6 grams a day; the current average salt intake is 8.1g salt a day although many people are eating more than this.

People with or considered at risk of kidney disease or renal failure should ensure that they keep their salt intake below the recommended maximum of 6g. This can be achieved by simple changes, such as consuming less processed foods and checking product labels before purchase.



References
1. Orfan, Y., Lavi, D., Opher, T., Weiss, T. and Elinav, E. Fatal voluntary salt intake resulting in the highest ever documented sodium plasma level in adults (255 mmoll-1): a disorder linked to female gender and psychiatric disorders. Journal of Internal Medicine, 2004; 256: 525-528
2. Campbell, N. and Train, E. A systematic review of fatalities related to acute ingestion of salt. A need for warning labels? Nutrients, 2017; 9: 648-655

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