Salty Diet Can Lower Calcium, Lead to Kidney Stones and Osteoporosis

By Chelsea Whyte on July 26, 2012 5:47 PM EDT

french fries
Salty foods, like fries and chips, can deplete calcium in the body and lead to kidney stones. (Photo: Creative Commons: stevendepolo)

Diets high in salt have been known to cause many medical problems, such as kidney stones and osteoporosis, and now research from the University of Alberta may show why.

A team of medical researchers have found an important link between sodium and calcium, which both appear to be regulated by the same molecule in the body. In case of an overload of sodium, they are expelled from the body at the same time through urine. And high levels of calcium in urine leads to kidney stones, while too little calcium in the body can thin bones and lead to the development of osteoporosis.

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"When the body tries to get rid of sodium via the urine, our findings suggest the body also gets rid of calcium at the same time," said principal investigator Todd Alexander, whose findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal American Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology.

"This is significant because we are eating more and more sodium in our diets, which means our bodies are getting rid of more and more calcium. Our findings reinforce why it is important to have a low-sodium diet and why it is important to have lower sodium levels in processed foods."

 It has long been known that the sodium-hydrogen exchanger 3 (NHE3) molecule governed sodium absorption in the body, but the finding that it regulates calcium as well is new, the researchers said.

In their research, the team worked with lab animals that didn't have this important molecule, so their urine contained high levels of calcium. Because calcium was not absorbed and retained by the body, bones became thin.

"We found a molecule that seems to have two jobs - regulating the levels of both calcium and sodium in the body," Alexander told Food Navigator. "Our findings provide very real biological evidence that this relationship between sodium and calcium is real and linked."

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