Can salt help alleviate social anxiety?

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Have you ever wondered why so many of us when having a drink at our local bar we enjoy eating a packet or two of salty peanuts or crisps?

According to new research the effect that the salt in these snacks may have on our bodies could be a lot more than simply increasing our thirst, the salt may also be helping us to overcome social anxiety.

Researchers for the University of Cincinnati found that when sodium levels are increased, they have the effect of inhibiting certain stress hormones in the brain that would otherwise be activated when we are faced with a stressful situation.

Research assistant and first author of the study Professor Erik Krause, PhD from the University of Cincinnati’s department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neuroscience, says they call this the “Watering Hole Effect”.

“When you’re thirsty, you have to overcome some amount of fear and anxiety to approach a communal water source. And you want to facilitate those interactions — that way everyone can get to the water source” he said.

It also appears from the research that when sodium levels are elevated it not only helps to limit the release of certain stress hormones, it also promotes the release of an anti stress hormone called Oxytocin which can help us feel more relaxed.

When in a bar packed full of people, or indeed anywhere else where we are mixing with strangers,  it’s quite understandable that there may be some level of social anxiety but who would have thought it could actually be the crisps, peanuts and pretzels that make us feel more relaxed – interesting stuff.

Seriously though, the research has important implications in other areas too, particularly in autism.

Professor Kraus says that future research will examine the hormones involved and their pathways to identify their role in social anxiety disorders as well as autism. One of the characteristics of autism is a reduced ability to function effectively in social situations.

“Oxytocin deficiency has been implicated in autism in previous studies,” says Krause.

“We’d like to investigate the possibility that dysregulation in fluid balance during pregnancy could result in autistic disorders.”

Salt may not be so bad after all.

The research has been reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, issue April 6th 2011.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised I found this site with someone who agrees. I been using salt for my sore throats over the years and I swear it helps anxiety and stress better than medication! I never knew it was the affect of the salt until I identified what I was taking to help my anxiety.. Apparently it has something to do with how your flood flows, I think.

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