I have a confession about my life prior to 2013. In addition to an addiction to adrenaline, I also had a very powerful addiction to sodium. The things that finally made me go cold turkey on both addictions were a diagnosis of heart failure and the potential for a heart transplant hanging over my head. I came to the grim realization that giving up both of these long term addictions that had been with me for many years would also strengthen my chances for staying alive with my very own heart in my senior years.
I am helped in my addiction to adrenaline by a powerful drug known as a beta blocker. Carvedilol stands guard over my heart. Whenever an adrenaline surge kicks in, the sentry sounds an alarm warning my heart and my entire being that the stress wall is being breached by a very nasty invader. The ensuing panic makes me do everything possible to kick the adrenaline out and avoid potential heart damage.
Sadly, I don’t have additional help when it comes to making sure that I maintain a lower level of sodium in my diet. It all comes down to me, and how vigilant I am in keeping my sodium intake low. I just have to read labels, educate myself on sodium levels in food that is not labeled, and use common sense. But alas, sometimes common sense is not that common to me. If it were, perhaps I wouldn’t have a powerful sodium addiction to conquer in the first place.
I suspect you think I’m exaggerating. Trust me, I am not. I suspect that the first dinner table item I learned to use on my own as a child was the salt shaker. It just seemed that no entrée or side dish contained enough salt to satisfy me. My family members would sigh as I reached for the shaker and say: “Why don’t you taste the food first to see if it needs more salt?” I would just give them the obligatory eye roll. What a stupid question! Of course food needed additional salt!
There was nothing I tasted up to that time that didn’t need salt, so why would this dish be any different?
You could always tell where I had been sitting at the dinner table. There was a trail of salt surrounding the place setting. My family members would kid me that they needed to buy me one of the salt licks that stores sold for household pets. Again, the obligatory eye roll. Yes, the pet bunny might need additional help getting salt but not me. I was very adept at pouring salt on my food.
It wasn't that I didn't have any warning about the perils of salt. After all, I went to Sunday School and heard all the vivid Bible stories as a child. How could I have overlooked Old Testament tale that was the most serious example of why too much sodium is a bad thing? Shouldn’t the fact that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt have clued me into the fact that too much sodium is never a good thing?
All throughout my adult life till I was 56 years old, I craved salt more than anything. Friends and family were all well aware that I had this salt craving. They would make sure the salt shaker near me on the dinner table. I had a sizeable cache of salt packets in my desk drawers for when I ate lunch in my office at work. As I recall, while I have always had low blood pressure, I suspect that my readings would have been lower if it were not for the fact that I was consuming large amounts of salt.
Given that I had eaten more than my weight in salt over the years, I was not thrilled that I had to cut my sodium intake significantly. But I also knew that the best way for me to make this change was to just go as cold turkey on salt as soon as possible. So I changed my diet around completely. I stopped using any prepared foods that had a high content of salt. I began to consume a lot of fresh or steamed vegetables and kept the salt shaker away from the table. I may not have been happy, but I was determined to make this change.
I kept a tally of how much salt I was consuming each day to make sure that I did not stray from the recommended amount. At first, I kept the tally on paper. Then I got so proficient at this task that I just kept an informal calculation in my head at all times. While it wasn’t easy, I found that over time I got used to consuming much less salt.
I began to realize that I had been rushing around so much in my previous life that I just seemed to be on autopilot and not give much thought to what I was doing. It is hard to believe that my lack of childhood restraint with salt had become much worse as an adult. I continued to just dump salt on food without tasting it first. I just assumed that it would not be edible to me until a ton of salt was added. I gave up salt and found that much to my surprise, I could still eat and enjoy food with a greatly reduced sodium level. Who knew?
I was very proud of myself for making this drastic dietary change. So imagine my surprise when I got a call from my doctor’s office after a series of blood test. It seems that my sodium reading was too low! Needless to say I was shocked! (I would say that I was speechless, except I know you likely have observed that I am never at a loss for words). Isn’t this the result they wanted? Wasn’t I cutting sodium so that there would be less in my body?
Well the answer for these questions, like the answers for everything else in life, is that there needs to be balance. First, the doctor wasn’t telling me to return to my old salt habits. He still wanted me to watch my sodium consumption. But the doctor explained to me that you need an amount of sodium in your body.
The problem is that perhaps I had been drinking more water, which might have flushed some of the sodium out of my body so that the level was a bit low. So they needed to me to carefully monitor my water consumption. I had to admit that it was likely that my fluid intake might have fluctuated up a bit. So I monitored my fluid intake very carefully and the next blood test results showed that the levels were back to normal.
The website "Very Well" has an article on their website entitled “What happens if I don’t consume enough sodium?” Here is what the article had to say relative to why we need some sodium in our diets: “There's so much written about cutting back on sodium that it can be difficult to remember that it's an essential nutrient. Sodium is an electrolyte, which means it helps keep your fluid levels in balance by working with water, potassium, and chloride. You also need sodium for healthy nerve and muscle function.”
Once again, I noted the very important word “balance”. I would guess that whenever I started to feel a bit out of whack, it was because something had been moved out of balance in my life. But I think this is a challenge I can overcome as well. I am learning what my balance is when it comes to sodium intake, fluid intake, sleep, meditation, prayer, exercise, volunteer activity, reading, writing and arithmetic. I think I can keep everything in sync so that my life is a model of fulfillment and grace. I bet it will be wonderful when I finally arrive at this destination.
On a final note, while I was drafting this post, I came across a recent study that basically said a person does not need to reduce salt intake as long as his or her body can efficiently process salt. I think this post, based on my experience over the last four years, supports the fact that my body cannot efficiently process sodium. So regardless of what the studies say I will continue to carefully monitor my salt intake.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.