If I told you there was a white granular substance you need to limit your intake of to avoid raising your risk of developing diabetes, you'd probably assume I was talking about sugar. And it's true, you do need to keep your sugar intake in check. But that's not the only white granular substance you need to keep tabs on. It turns out, your salt intake could also be linked to your risk of type-2 diabetes as well as latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA).
I'm sure you've heard of type-2 diabetes. But people are generally less familiar with LADA, a form of type-1 diabetes. The difference between type-1 diabetes and type-2 diabetes is that in type-1, the pancreas stops making insulin, and the patient eventually needs to take insulin. In type 2, the pancreas continues to make insulin. Normally, type-1 diabetes shows up very quickly in young people. But in LADA, the immune system destroys the pancreas's insulin-producing cells at such a slow rate that the patients don't require insulin until adulthood. Because it can progress very slowly and typically appears later in life, LADA is often initially mistaken for type-2 diabetes.
According to research being conducted at The Institute of Environmental Medicine in Sweden, both forms are influenced by sodium intake. The researchers evaluated the dietary intakes of 355 patients with LADA and 1,136 patients with type-2 diabetes, comparing them to 1,379 control individuals without diabetes. The participants were also divided into "high risk" or "other" groups depending on their genetic predisposition to diabetes. The researchers adjusted for differences in age, sex, BMI, smoking status, physical activity, family history of diabetes, alcohol consumption, total energy intake, and potassium intake.
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They discovered that for every additional gram of sodium the participants consumed (the amount found in 2.5 grams of table salt), their type-2 diabetes risk went up by 43%. When they divided the participants into three groups according to their sodium consumption levels, the high consumption group (above 3.15 g of sodium or 7.9 g of salt per day) had a 58% higher type-2 diabetes risk than the low-consumption group (less than 2.4 g of sodium or 6 g of salt per day).
The effects on LADA risk were even more significant. Each extra gram of sodium consumed per day added a 73% increase in LADA risk. The effects were particularly strong in the high-risk group. If they were also in the high-consumption group, they were nearly four times more likely to develop LADA than those in the low-consumption group.
The researchers concluded that even though they don't know how it happens, sodium intake is indeed a risk factor for both types of diabetes, particularly for those who have LADA. So, if you have what has been diagnosed as type-2 diabetes, or if you have a family history of diabetes, make sure your doctor checks your blood level for anti-islet cell antibodies. This is a way of finding out if you have LADA. And even if you don't have LADA, I think it's wise to keep your intake on the low side. You can do this pretty easily by choosing whole, unprocessed foods and preparing them yourself at home. Sodium is typically found lurking in restaurant meals (the faster they're made, the saltier they're likely to be) as well as processed foods that need to have a long shelf life. Choose whole foods and use salt as a seasoning, not a preservative, and you should be just fine.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD