There will be no misunderstanding the latest medical news regarding sodium consumption: Salt can put you in a coma.
In a study of one, conducted in 2011 in that booze-fueled laboratory known as a fraternity hazing—the epitome of cold, scientific objectivity—a 19-year-old Zeta Psi pledge at University of Virginia downed a quart of soy sauce. He subsequently slipped into a “comatose state with seizure-like activity,” according to a new case study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. Such episodes, referred to by the exacting term “intentional massive sodium chloride ingestion,” are usually fatal, and, according to the case study, “the patient’s peak serum sodium was 196 mmol/L, which, to our knowledge, is the highest documented level in an adult patient to survive an acute sodium ingestion without neurologic deficits.”
A serving of soy sauce is about one teaspoon; there are 48 teaspoons in a cup, four cups in a quart. One hundred and ninety-two servings of soy sauce—more than 100,000 milligrams of sodium—put the UVA student into a coma; the daily recommended sodium intake is a mere 1,500 milligrams.
The coma, the seizures, the “neurologic deficits” the student was lucky to avoid are all symptoms of hypernatremia, a condition usually caused by increased sodium due to dehydration.
As LiveScience explains, “Hypernatremia is dangerous because it causes the brain to lose water. When there is too much salt in the bloodstream, water moves out of the body tissues and into the blood by the process of osmosis, to try to equalize the salt concentration between the two.”
Drinking a few years’ worth of soy sauce in one long, salty gulp may be inherently stupid, but it isn’t unheard of—it was a common means of suicide in ancient China, according to the case study. And back in 2006, a 73-year-old Japanese man tried to kill himself by downing soy sauce. The would-be suicide didn’t have as much sodium in his blood as the UVA student, but it was enough to cause brain shrinkage.
So maybe stick to one teaspoon?