Salt tablets are available without a prescription in health stores and online. But is it effective in combating low sodium levels in the body?
And should people use it to offset the effects of intense exercise?
This article discusses when people use salt tablets, their benefits and side effects, and whether they can help prevent dehydration.
Salt tablets or salt pills may help replace low levels of sodium in the body. Sodium is a metal and an electrolyte at the same time. The body needs electrolytes to regulate fluids in the body, which ensures hydration and helps the body function well.
A doctor may prescribe or recommend salt tablets when a person has symptoms of hyponatremia, which means they have low levels of sodium in their blood. The normal sodium level in the blood is between 135 and 145 milliequivalents/liter (mEq/L).
Your doctor will diagnose hyponatremia when sodium levels are low
- Kidney failure, when the kidneys are unable to rid the body of excess fluid
- Congestive heart failure, when excess fluid builds up in the body
- Diuretics (water pills) that increase sodium in the urine
- sweating more than usual
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea that depletes the body of fluids and salts
- Excessive thirst, causing you to take in a lot of fluids
Exercise can also cause exercise-related hyponatremia. This occurs when athletes, often long-distance runners, consume a lot of water during physical activity, depleting normal levels of sodium.
As a result, many marathon and long-distance runners take salt tablets before or during long-distance runs to avoid cramps associated with low electrolyte levels.
An underlying medical condition, such as cystic fibrosis, can cause the body to lose more salt in sweat, especially in children and young adults with this condition. Your doctor may prescribe salt tablets to prevent hyponatremia.
People take salt tablets for many reasons, including:
- Improved hydration during exercise, especially during endurance activities
- Maintaining a good balance of electrolytes in the body after illness or exercise
- Managing symptoms and side effects of essential conditions
There is some evidence to suggest that salt tablets are an effective treatment for hyponatremia.
However, there is little evidence to suggest that it is effective in preventing illness caused by long-distance running.
A 2021 study on the effect of sodium and climate supplementation during aramarathon found that salt tablets did not seem to protect athletes from symptoms of low electrolytes, such as cramps. Instead, they found that factors such as body mass, long training distances, and avoiding excessive fluid intake were more important in preventing these issues.
Salt tablets should not cause any specific side effects at the recommended doses. However, if a person takes in much more than the recommended dose, they may suffer from hypernatremia, which is when a person has too much salt in the body.
Symptoms of hypernatremia include:
- swollen tongue
- inflamed skin
- fast heart rate
- high blood pressure
A person taking salt tablets who notices any of the above symptoms should stop taking them immediately and contact their doctor.
Before taking salt tablets, a person should inform their doctor of anything that may be relevant, such as allergies, underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease, or whether they are pregnant or breastfeeding.
People can buy salt tablets without a prescription, but if a person takes an excessive amount of salt tablets, they may experience potentially serious symptoms.
People taking salt tablets should follow their doctor’s directions or follow the dosage instructions on the package. Taking the tablets with food may reduce the risk of stomach upset.
Salt tablets usually contain about 400 milligrams of sodium. It should be stored safely at room temperature, about 59-86 degrees F (15-30 degrees C).
People can dissolve salt tablets in water to make an isotonic solution. Dissolve one tablet in 4 ounces of water and take it as directed by your physician or healthcare professional.
People taking salt tablets to prevent heat cramps should take one tablet by mouth as directed by their doctor.
There is evidence to suggest that salt tablets can help prevent dehydration in certain situations.
It is important to note that this study showed that the sodium solution outperformed saline tablets when people took them alone. People should drink plenty of water with the tablets.
People who want to take salt tablets to help with dehydration during exercise should speak with their doctor before taking them. They may consider choosing salt and electrolyte solutions or sports drinks rather than salt tablets alone.
Salt tablets may help increase low levels of sodium in the blood and balance electrolytes in the body. It may be suitable for use by people with underlying health conditions and by athletes.
A person who takes more salt tablets than the recommended dose may notice irritability, a high heart rate, and dizziness, among other symptoms. People who want to take salt tablets for exercise should speak with a doctor first.