(BPT) - Stress can kill you and the longer you experience stress the worse your health can become. In fact, exposure to long term stress causes the body to produce several hormones that can lead to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, trouble sleeping, obesity, and memory loss, according to the Mayo Clinic. Both men and women suffer from stress but women are more susceptible to stress-related conditions, which can also include infertility.
Stress levels can also increase significantly when economic times are tough. In England, the British Health and Social Care Information Centre found that stress increased by 47 percent during that country's recession and that stress was the single biggest cause of sickness in the UK, affecting 20 percent of the population. Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University, a known expert on stress, was alarmed and told The Independent, "I have never seen figures like this before. Stress is a trigger mechanism for a whole range of conditions, from heart attacks to immune system disorders, mental illness and depression and anxiety.'
Many times people will turn to food to help them relieve stress and there is a scientific reason for this. Salty snacks actually help your body reduce stress levels. Stress is characterized in the human body by high levels of the hormone cortisol, referred to as the "stress hormone.' Scientific research has shown, both in animals and in humans, that increased levels of salt consumption are very effective in reducing levels of cortisol.
Now, new research from the University of Haifa published in the science journal Appetite (has confirmed the relationship between salt and stress in humans. Researchers found an inverse correlation between salt and depression/stress, especially in women. In essence, the body is self-regulating to prevent stress and depression by making us crave salt.
Professor Micah Leshem reviewed data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) using 10,000 individuals and demonstrated that depression and stress were higher in individuals who consumed less salt, a trend more prevalent in women than men. He noted that the relationship of higher depression with lower salt intake in humans was consistent with the results of animal studies. He went on to question whether the voluntary selection of salty food choices was a biological defense mechanism that evolved to cope with daily stress.
Professors Pavel and Leshem also found that young people, up to the age of 19, selectively choose foods that are higher in salt, indicating a natural feedback mechanism driving them to consume higher salt foods and rewarding them with more vigorous growth. This begs the question; if we restrict the salt intake of young people will their growth be diminished?
Despite the many clear benefits of salt-intake in a person's diet, various national and governmental organizations are calling for drastic reductions in the amount of salt people consume. However, a new study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that the average American is already consuming the right amount of sodium for optimal health outcomes and that the low sodium levels currently recommended by the CDC and major health departments are now viewed by many in the scientific community as excessively and unrealistically low.
The fact remains that whether they are called comfort foods or mood stabilizers, salty foods are incredibly effective at making people feel better and reducing heightened stress levels.