Naturopath Anthia Koullouros adds it to her tap water and lemon juice in the morning. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey provides it to staff around the world. An Iranian doctor wrote a book about its virtues. Oh, and Gwyneth Paltrow is into it. Of course.
Salt juice – adding a pinch of salt to your drinking water each morning, with a squeeze of lime or lemon if you’re feeling fancy – is the latest practice for the parched health-conscious.
Other salt juice fans include Olympic coach and author the late Charles Poliquin, Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman and US fitness entrepreneur John Romaniello.
Are they on to something? Should we all be adding a pinch of salt to our water? And what’s the lemon juice about?
Why do these people add salt to their water?
Paltrow, who has 1.7 million followers of her Goop health advice website, says this: “I drink so much water and always have, but I’m always dehydrated. I’ve been doing research about mineralising water and adding Himalayan sea salt to it to help with absorption. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it really mineralises the water and makes a big difference.”
Koullouros, who uses a “good-quality sea salt with the A-to-Z of minerals”, agrees: “It helps to get the water inside our cells.”
The late Fereydoon Batmanghelidj (known as Dr B) wrote a book on the subject, Water and Salt: Your Healers From Withinhighlighting the importance of hydration by pointing out that 85 per cent of the brain and about 75 per cent of the body’s soft tissue cells are made up of water,
He argued that many people are dehydrated and that the other fluids we consume, such as coffee, tea and alcohol, further dehydrate us. Dehydration, he believed, was to blame for an array of health conditions. So, he campaigned for people to drink much more water than recommended and said a pinch of sea salt helped the body to absorb it better.
Indeed, “enhanced absorption” of water and remedying dehydration are among the most common reasons people add a pinch to their water.
In a blog post, Poliquin said he also believed it positively impacts digestion “as well as adrenal function and detoxification pathways”. Romaniello “wasn’t sold” on Poliquin’s claims but drank it for absorption and its “positive digestive effect”.
US neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology at Stanford, adds about half a teaspoon of sea salt to his water each morning. Hydration is vitally important for brain function and neurons require “ionic flow,” he explained on his podcast recently: “What that means is neurons need sodium. They need magnesium and they need potassium in order to function … we do tend to get dehydrated at night even if the day is not very hot … So, I make myself drink this water with a little bit of sea salt.”
Well, does salt help the body absorb water better?
“It is true that a little salt in water will increase the rate of absorption,” says dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan, “that’s why sports drinks and electrolyte drinks have a very specific amount of sodium.”
Sodium (an essential mineral found in foods including salt), along with calcium and potassium, are electrolytes used to help treat dehydration as well as by athletes to rehydrate and maintain energy while performing.
“When we sweat a lot in vigorous exercise, we lose sodium and potassium. So, it is important to ingest them,” says Professor Ken Nosaka, director of exercise and sports science at Edith Cowan University, adding that these minerals may also help to prevent cramps.
“In relation to water absorption, sodium is the most important [electrolyte],
When we drink water, sodium is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract first then enters the vascular system before it is eventually pumped into every cell, mainly via a process called the osmotic gradient, which is regulated by sodium, Nosaka explains.
Although a little salt (which is made of about 40 per cent sodium and 60 per cent chlorine) does improve our body’s ability to absorb water, it’s a balancing act, says Mark Hargreaves, a professor in physiology at the University of Melbourne.
“Just as you need water balance, you need sodium balance. If you have too much or too little you end up with major issues,” he says.
Most Australians are already consuming much more than the recommended daily intake of 5 grams or less of salt, about the equivalent of one teaspoon. The main foods contributing to our salt consumption are bread, meat, poultry and game products, including processed meat, cereal products and cereal-based dishes such as biscuits and pizza.
“Too much salt can raise the risk of high blood pressure – a silent risk factor for heart disease,” says accredited practicing dietitian Kathleen Alleaume, who believes there are better things to focus on. “If all Aussies can just focus on eating a lot more plant-based foods – whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes etc – we would be all better off.”
As for the lemon or lime in the water, it may improve the taste and provide “a little vitamin C”, McMillan says, but it doesn’t affect water absorption.
She adds that a squeeze of lemon is fine, especially if it encourages us to drink water, so long as we don’t have it in excess, which can be acidic for our teeth’s enamel.
Should you run with this trend (or take it with a grain of salt)?
Given most of us need to consume less, not more salt, this trend may be for the select few.
And, unless a person needs to rehydrate rapidly (because they have diarrhoea, have been exercising for more than 90 minutes, or won’t be eating in the near future for instance), we recover any lost fluids and sodium simply by eating food and drinking plain water, says Hargreaves.
How much plain water? “You don’t want to be dehydrated but thirst is a pretty good physiological mechanism, so if you’re thirsty, drink,” he says.
Nosaka thinks the salt water trend is “OK” provided people don’t consume too much total sodium in their diet. Hargreaves says that “broadly” there is truth to many of the claims about salt water and the practice may be useful in specific situations.
“Whether you need to do it every morning, I’m less convinced,” he adds, “as long as you have adequate fluid intake and adequate salt and other nutrient intake as part of your regular diet.”
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