Can too much salt cause headaches? New research suggests that a diet high in salt may be responsible for headaches. Previously, research had suggested that headaches were linked to high blood pressure, and high blood pressure caused headaches, but now researchers suspect that salt is an independent cause of headaches.

jar of salt spilling out on a table top

6 Signs You’re Consuming Too Much Salt

It’s recommended to consume less than 2,300 mg per day, but the average American consumes 3,400 mg per day. With overconsumption of sodium, you might experience a number of symptoms including the following.

1. Constant Need to Urinate

One of the top symptoms of someone who consumes too much salt is the need to frequently urinate. The reason you urinate so much when you consume too much salt is that salt can only be dispelled from the body after it’s dissolved. Therefore, urinating is the fastest way to expel salt from the body. Constant urination can also be linked to type 2 diabetes, UTIs, or an overactive bladder.

2. Persistent Thirst

Another sign of consuming too much salt is persistent thirst. When you consume too much salt, it acts as a magnet inside your body by pulling water from cells. With depletion, you will begin to feel thirsty to replenish your cells.

3. Swelling

Consuming too much sodium can also cause your body to swell. Some people experience a bloated stomach while others might experience swelling in their fingers, hands, or ankles. The swelling is a result of excessive fluids in the tissue.

4. Food Tastes Bland

If you’re used to eating too much salt, foods that contain a regular level of sodium might taste bland to you. This is because your taste buds are used to overconsuming salt.

5. Salty Food Cravings

As your tastebuds adapt to a saltier diet, you will continue to crave salty foods to meet your new salt intake.

6. Frequent Headaches

The last sign you’re consuming too much salt is frequent mild headaches. These headaches are a result of dehydration.

Exploring the Link between Salt and Headaches

Researchers found that the incidence of headaches was similar for people on either diet. However, there was a significant difference between people who ate a diet higher in sodium and those who ate less sodium. The people with the lower sodium intake had about a third fewer headaches than those who had higher sodium intake.

A recent study examined the effects of sodium intake on those with pre-hypertension or stage I hypertension by randomly instructing some adults to follow a salt-rich (Western) diet or a DASH (low-salt) diet. Participants consumed 3,500 mg of sodium per day in the salt-rich diet and only 2,300 mg per day in the DASH diet.

After 30 days, the study revealed that those who ate a lower sodium diet experienced fewer headaches than those who consumed foods high in sodium.

How to Reduce Sodium Intake

If you think that sodium might be at least partly to blame for your headaches, you can try to reduce sodium intake.

The best thing you can do to reduce your sodium intake is to cook more of your food from scratch. Prepared foods tend to contain a lot of sodium. This includes foods like jarred pasta sauce. Starting with tomato paste as opposed to tomato sauce can make a big difference in your sodium consumption.

Foods prepared at restaurants–especially fast food restaurants–use a lot of salt in preparing your food. You can ask about added salt in your foods and try to avoid foods that have added salt, but you’re probably still going to get more than you would at home.

Use labels to guide you to lower-sodium alternatives. When you do use canned foods, you can also reduce sodium intake by rinsing the food before eating.

Foods High in Sodium

If you’re searching for ways to reduce your sodium intake, avoiding certain foods is one of the easiest ways to cut sodium in your diet. These foods include:

  • Shrimp
  • Soup
  • Ham
  • Instant pudding
  • Cottage cheese
  • Vegetable juice
  • Salad dressing
  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Broths and stocks
  • Boxed potato casseroles
  • Pork rinds
  • Canned vegetables
  • Processed cheese
  • Jerky and dried meats
  • Tortillas
  • Cold cuts and salami
  • Pickles
  • Sauces
  • Bratwurst and hot dogs
  • Tomato sauce
  • Bagels and bread
  • Canned meat, poultry, seafood
  • Boxed meal helpers
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Biscuits
  • Frozen meals
  • Sausage, bacon, salt pork
  • Baked beans

If you do buy processed food, try to at least choose reduced-sodium options and read labels so you know how much sodium you’re ingesting.

Increase Water Intake

The main reason a high sodium diet can cause headaches is that you’re not rehydrating yourself properly. When you consume salty foods, the salt pulls water from cells in your body and causes you to urinate more frequently. You should already drink at least 64 ounces of water per day. If you’re eating a lot of salty food, you need to increase your water intake even more to prevent dehydration and dehydration headaches. Increasing your water intake may put an end to frequent headaches.

Still Experiencing Headaches? Get Treatment in Columbia, SC

If you have reduced your sodium content but haven’t noticed any reduction in the frequency or severity of your headaches, it may be that diet was never your problem. Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is a common, but often unrecognized, cause of headaches. If you haven’t been able to get help from your doctor in reducing headaches or if your current headache treatment isn’t working, perhaps TMJ treatment can help.

To learn whether it can help you, please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry today.