Why Salt Is Addictive: It Stimulates the Brain Cells Just Like Cigarettes and Hard Drugs

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Some will no doubt take the news with a pinch of salt.

But researchers claim that salt is addictive in the same way as cigarettes or hard drugs, with the craving triggering the same genes, brain cells and brain connections.

The finding could help explain why many find it so hard to cut back on salt, despite warnings about dangers to blood pressure and heart health.

For the study, Australian and American scientists kept some mice on low-salt diets and gave others a salt drip.

Activity in the creatures’ brains was then compared with that in mice fed normally. They also studied the brains of mice that had been starved of salt for three days and then given salty water to drink freely.

When the rodents were in need of salt, brain cells made proteins more usually linked to addiction to substances such as heroin, cocaine and nicotine.

Professor Derek Denton, of the University of Melbourne, said: ‘In this study we have demonstrated that one classic instinct, the hunger for salt, is providing neural organisation that subserves addiction to opiates and cocaine.’

The study also revealed that after salt was taken, the brain believes it has received its fix well before it should be physically possible.

In other words, the changes caused by salt cravings disappeared well before the salt could have left the gut, entered the blood and got to the brain.

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