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Sodium Levels May Determine Health of Brain

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When we think of unhealthy sodium levels, we generally think of high levels, don’t we?

However, a new study shows that lower sodium levels may negatively affect our brains as we age. Lower sodium levels in the blood are referred to as hyponatremia. The results of the study can be found in the upcoming issue of Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN). The results show that confronting the possibility poor sodium levels may help maintain brain health as individuals age.

What is Hyponatremia?

Hyponatremia happens when the sodium level in the blood falls below 135 mmol/L. Until recently, very few researchers paid attention to mild hyponatremia. However, more studies are starting to connect mild hyponatremia with higher risks in certain diseases. For example, mild hyponatremia has been connected to falling, disturbances in the cardiovascular system, and premature death. Severe hyponatremia has been linked with an impaired mind. It’s also been linked to neurological disturbances.

What did researchers find about sodium levels?

Kristen Nowak, PhD, MPH (University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus) and her colleagues examined information on 5435 asymptomatic community-dwelling men aged >65 years. They were followed for a median of 4.6 years. A total of 100 men had serum levels linking to hyponatremia.

The researchers found that slightly lower sodium levels in the blood were related to both cognitive impairment and declines in brain function over time. Compared with men with sodium levels of 141-142 mmol/L, men with levels of 126-140 mmol/L were 30% more likely to have cognitive impairment at baseline and 37% more likely to experience cognitive decline over time. The investigators also found an association of high serum sodium (143-153 mmol/L) with cognitive decline over time.

“Slightly lower sodium levels in the blood are likely to be unnoticed in clinical practice. Because both slightly lower serum sodium levels and mild changes in cognitive function are common occurrences with advancing age, future research on this topic is important — including determining whether correcting lower sodium levels affects cognitive function.”

The Takeaway

Although researchers have found a connection between lower levels of sodium and poor cognition in older adults, there needs to be more research conducted on the subject. Future research on this topic may be essential to keeping the population’s brain health maintained as they age.


American Society of Nephrology. “Blood sodium levels may affect cognition in older adults.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2018. .