Low sodium levels found to contribute to cognitive impairment, decline

Low levels of sodium in the blood known as hyponatremia can play a role in the impairment and decline of cognitive function in older adults, according to a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Mild hyponatremia is commonly found in older adults and was found to be associated with greater risks of attention deficits, gait disturbances, falls, cardiovascular conditions, and even early death. Furthermore, severe hyponatremia has been associated with cognitive impairment and neurological disturbances. Despite this, the relationship between different levels of serum sodium and cognition in older adults remained unclear, until today. A team of researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, University of California San Francisco, University of California San Diego, and Stanford University investigated whether lower normal serum sodium is linked to the risk of cognitive decline.

In the study, the research team looked at the data of more than 5,000 asymptomatic community-dwelling men who were 65 years old or older. They followed the study participants for an average of 4.6 years and discovered that a total of 100 men had serum levels that suggest hyponatremia or low level of sodium in the blood.

The findings of the study revealed that a slightly lower sodium level in the blood were associated with cognitive impairment as well as declines in cognitive function over time. In addition, men with sodium levels of 126 to 140 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) had a 30 percent increased risk of experiencing cognitive impairment at baseline and a 37 percent increased risk of suffering from cognitive decline over time when compared to men with sodium levels of 141 to 142 mmol/L. Furthermore, a high serum sodium of 143 to 153 mmol/L was found to be associated with cognitive decline over time.

“Slightly lower sodium levels in the blood are likely to be unnoticed in clinical practice,” said Kristen Nowak, of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Nowak also said that future research on this topic is important, such as identifying whether correcting lower sodium levels affects cognitive function. This is because slightly lower serum sodium levels as well as mild alterations in cognitive function are common cases as people age. The research team believes that increasing awareness of the impact of sodium levels may help preserve cognition as individuals age. (Related: CDC report details FDA’s failure to curb dangerous sodium levels in American processed food.)

More on hyponatremia

Hyponatremia is a condition that develops when the level of sodium in the blood is abnormally low. Sodium is an electrolyte that plays a role in regulating the amount of water that is in and around the cells. This condition can occur due to an underlying medical condition, certain medications, heart, liver, and kidney problems, chronic, severe vomiting or diarrhea, dehydration, drinking too much water, hormonal changes, or the recreational drug ecstasy.

You may have hyponatremia if you experience one or more of its signs and symptoms which include nausea and vomiting, headache, confusion, decreased energy and fatigue, restlessness and irritability, muscle weakness, spasms, or cramps, seizures, and coma.

Treatment of hyponatremia depends on its cause. It can be treated by simply decreasing you liquid intake or needing intravenous fluids and medications in some cases.

If you’d like to read more news stories and studies regarding cognitive function, you may go to Brain.news.

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