Salt makes you hungry, not thirsty as once believed, according to studies conducted by U.S. and German researchers that could lead to new treatments for illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
The findings, which were published this week in the Journal of Clinical Investigations, showed that "the biological principle of salt excretion is water conservation and water production," said a Vanderbilt University release.
That is opposite to previous thinking that salt leads to water loss into the urine, which leads to reduced water content in the body.
"Before the study, the prevailing hypothesis had been that the charged sodium and chloride ions in salt grabbed onto water molecules and dragged them into the urine," said the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, which took part in the study.
"The new results showed something different: salt stayed in the urine, while water moved back into the kidney and body."
The results came out of a study by the German Aerospace Center, the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Vanderbilt and others conducting a simulated mission to Mars. Two groups of male volunteers in a mock spaceship had identical diets except that over periods lasting several weeks when they were given three different levels of salt in their food.
The research changes what scientists have believed about the process by which the body achieves water homeostasis – maintaining a proper amount and balance, whether going to Mars or not.
"We now have to see this process as a concerted activity of the liver, muscle and kidney," said Jens Titze, of the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
"While we didn’t directly address blood pressure and other aspects of the cardiovascular system, it’s also clear that their functions are tightly connected to water homeostasis and energy metabolism," Titze added.
In the mid-1990s, Titze started conducting long-term sodium balance studies in Russian cosmonauts in preparation for a potential manned spaceflight to Mars.
Between 2009 and 2011, his team studied four men during a 105-day pre-flight phase and six others during the first 205 days of a 520-day phase that simulated a full-length manned mission to Mars and back, noted Vanderbilt.
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