Some people take salt tablets to replace the sodium they lose through sweating in the hot sun. Is this a good idea? Find out the truth about salt pills.
The hot summer sun can do more than just dehydrate you, if you’re outdoors on a hot day for long periods of time or exercising in the heat, you could lose enough sodium to cause a sodium imbalance. Some people try to prevent this problem by drinking lots of liquids – and some even take salt tablets. Is taking salt tablets when you’re outdoors in the summer sun a good idea?
What Are Salt Tablets?
Salt tablets, or salt pills, are made of buffered sodium chloride and are sold at some pharmacies and grocery stores. They were once easier to find, but taking salt tablets has become less popular with the recent emphasis on low sodium.
Why Would a Person Take Salt Tablets?
When you’re out in the sun, your body regulates its internal body temperature by releasing heat through the skin – in the form of sweat. Along with the heat and water, sodium is lost in varying amounts. To replace water and stay hydrated, most people drink a fluid that’s higher in water than it is in sodium. The excess water dilutes out the sodium in the bloodstream – leading to a low sodium concentration in the body – a condition called hyponatremia.
Hyponatremia is a condition that can be life threatening which is why people who exercise in the heat sometimes take sodium tablets. Symptoms of hyponatremia include muscle cramps, nausea, headache, lightheadedness, disorientation – and even seizures and death. Taking salt tablets replaces the sodium that’s lost through sweating and prevents a sodium imbalance from occurring.
Reasons Not to Take Salt Tablets
It may sound like taking salt tablets is a good idea, but most experts advise against it unless you’re running a marathon or exercising at a high intensity for long periods of time in the heat – or your doctor tells you to. Why? Sodium pills can irritate the stomach lining and cause nausea and vomiting – leading to further salt and water loss. Sodium pills are also a very concentrated form of salt which be too much for some people – particularly people with heart or lung problems.
The Alternative to Taking Salt Tablets
If you plan on exercising for long periods of time on a hot day, carry salty pretzels or crackers with you along with fluids to add some extra sodium. Instead of rehydrating with water, drink an electrolyte rich sports drink such as Gatorade or Accelerade instead. Another option is to drink chicken broth or canned tomato juice – just don’t drink the low sodium version. Avoid taking anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, diuretics, or caffeine before exercising in the hot sun since these drugs can increase the risk of a sodium imbalance.
The Bottom Line
For most people, salt pills aren’t the best way to guard against a sodium imbalance. Rehydrate with higher sodium fluids and eat salty foods as snacks when you’re in the sun, but talk to your doctor before taking salt tablets.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth Edition.