When Salt Cravings Mean Something More Serious
Everyone craves salty foods now and then. It’s natural because a little salt makes food taste better. Some people crave it more frequently than others, especially when they are under stress. And you may find you crave it when you’re a bit dehydrated. This is natural too because salt helps your body hold on to fluids. But when salt cravings are new, excessive and persistent, there may be something more serious to blame.
Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys. They are part of your endocrine system—a system of glands that release hormones into your blood. Your adrenal glands make several hormones. Two of them—aldosterone and cortisol—regulate salt and fluid balance in your body.
Addison’s disease is the result of adrenal glands not making enough hormones. Usually, the problem is with cortisol production, but it can also involve aldosterone. Another name for this condition is primary adrenal insufficiency. It’s a rare condition, affecting about 1 in 100,000 people.
The most common cause of Addison’s disease is a faulty immune system. It starts attacking the adrenal glands by mistake. This type of disease is an autoimmune disorder and it happens in 70% of Addison’s disease cases. But other conditions can damage the adrenal glands including:
Symptoms usually develop slowly. Fatigue, weakness, appetite loss, and unintended weight loss are the most common symptoms of Addison’s disease. Salt craving occurs in about 16% of cases. Your body craves salt because it is losing salt and is unable to hold on to it.
Other symptoms of Addison’s disease include:
- Abdominal pain
- Darkening of the skin
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Nausea and vomiting
Stressful situations—such as surgery, trauma, or a severe infection—can sometimes bring on symptoms very quickly. This is an adrenal crisis, and it happens because of the lack of cortisol. Cortisol is the “stress hormone” because it helps the body handle stress. When you don’t have enough, your body can’t cope with stress. Confusion, weakness, restlessness, vomiting, and high fever can result. An adrenal crisis is a medical emergency.
Like other endocrine problems, treatment of Addison’s disease involves balancing hormones. In this case, it’s necessary to replace cortisol and aldosterone. Doctors use corticosteroids to do this. You either take two separate steroids, or sometimes you can take just one that has actions of both cortisol and aldosterone. Treatment is lifelong and your doctor may need to make adjustments when you are sick or dealing with another type of stress. Keeping your adrenal hormones in balance will return you to a healthy and active life.