(BPT) - Stress affects everyone and can cause problems at work, home and with health. Researchers have found that stress is a leading cause of illness, affecting as much as 20 percent of the population. Economic factors, such as a recession, have also been shown to significantly increase population-wide stress levels.
"Stress is a trigger mechanism for a whole range of conditions, from heart attacks to immune system disorders, mental illness, depression and anxiety," says Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University, a known expert on stress.
Work and home life can be a source of stress in addition to health problems, creating a vicious cycle. Many times people will turn to food to help them relive 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.
Data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey demonstrated that depression and stress was higher in individuals who consumed less salt, a trend more prevalent in women than men. There is a direct relationship between depression and lower salt intake in humans, consistent with the results of animal studies. Craving salty foods may very well be a biological defense mechanism we evolved to cope with daily stress.
Of course, you don't need to be a scientist to notice the calming effect of salt. On a vegan Internet chat room, one user named Alex confessed, "I've gone a while without salt now, but I just had some with my dinner last night and I noticed it once again. Every time I eat some salt since being on this lifestyle (which is not often), I just feel better for some reason. Just more awake and more calm." Other people responded that they experienced the very same effect of salt.
Other good stress-relieving tips include getting a good night's sleep, and taking time off to focus on relaxation and regular exercise, which has added health benefits. Of course, with exercise, another benefit of salt becomes apparent as this vital nutrient is necessary to keeping the body properly hydrated and healthy. When you sweat, you lose not just water, but also electrolytes (salt) which need to be replenished.
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, a common condition in today's ever-changing world. So, the next time you finish a stressful day and want to wind down and relax, it may not be the margarita that changes the mood, it's more likely the salt on the rim of the glass. To learn more about the benefits of salt, visit www.alittlesalt.org.