Why Am I Craving Salt? Causes, Conditions, and Treatment

Medically Reviewed By Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D.
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Salt craving is a compelling or extreme desire to consume salt or salty foods. Craving salt can occur for many reasons, including behavioral habits, noncancerous biological processes such as pregnancy, and clinical illnesses. Craving salt is common, and can result from many factors and conditions.

While some conditions cause a deficiency in salts that may lead to cravings, sometimes a person can experience cravings without an additional nutritional need.

This article will explain what craving salt means, including some possible causes and related conditions. It will also explain how to treat salt cravings and answer some frequently asked questions about craving salt.

Why am I craving salt?

Two pairs of hands throw two buckets of popcorn in the air.
Studio Firma/Stocksy United

There are many reasons you may be craving salt. They can include personal and behavioral factors or an underlying condition.

Some researchers suggest that individual and social factors may contribute to cravings, such as:

  • nutrition habits
  • sex assigned at birth
  • age
  • body mass index
  • genotype
  • cultural norms

Conversely, some cravings are symptoms of more complex clinical conditions.

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance

When a person experiences dehydration or loses lots of water, the electrolyte balance in their body may go down. Electrolytes are mineral salts that the body needs at certain levels and can include:

  • potassium
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • sodium
  • chloride

If a person loses electrolytes and water, rehydrating with plain water may not replenish electrolyte levels, and the imbalance in the body remains. This can cause cravings for salt.

Mild dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are improvable with electrolyte replacement drinks or over-the-counter sachets. More serious cases may require treatment with IV therapy, and additional therapies to resolve the underlying cause.

Bartter syndrome

Bartter syndrome refers to a group of rare genetic conditions that involve specific impairments in kidney function.

With Bartter syndrome, the kidneys have a difficult time reabsorbing sodium and other mineral salts, causing electrolyte and fluid imbalances. As a result, some people with the condition may experience salt cravings.

Treatment for Bartter syndrome typically aims to address the condition’s symptoms and can include medications to maintain an appropriate balance of electrolytes and fluids. Clinicians may also recommend sodium and potassium chloride supplementation or a higher intake of foods high in potassium.

Addison’s disease

Addison’s disease or primary adrenal insufficiency is a rare condition that occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone.

Among other symptoms such as fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, and changes in skin pigmentation, Addison’s disease can cause salt cravings or cravings for salty foods. This is because aldosterone helps the kidneys keep salt in the body. If there is a lack of aldosterone, the kidneys can leak sodium and cause cravings.

Someone with Addison’s disease may also crave acidic or sour foods.

Clinicians may treat the condition by replacing the hormones with medication. Additionally, they may recommend increasing salt intake in the diet.

Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a condition that affects the movement of salts and water in and out of cells in the body. This is due to a genetic difference and can mean that people with CF lose up to 3–4 times more sodium and chloride in sweat than people without the condition. These lost salts can even crystallize visibly on the skin.

This can result in a low level of salts in the body, which may lead to feelings of needing more salt.

In addition to other treatments to address CF, clinicians may recommend that people with CF increase their daily intake of salt. The exact increase in intake will vary depending on individual factors, such as:

  • symptoms
  • current dietary intake
  • environment and climate
  • activity level
  • other illness

Pregnancy

Some people may experience feelings of craving salt during pregnancy. This is because many pregnant people experience cravings as a typical symptom of pregnancy. This can include craving salty foods, but specific cravings can vary for everyone.

Additionally, vomiting and morning sickness in the early stages of pregnancy is common. Severe cases can lead to dehydration and malnourishment.

Self-management for morning sickness may include:

  • resting
  • avoiding trigger foods or smells that worsen your nausea
  • having smaller, frequent meals of plainer foods that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates, such as bread or pasta
  • consuming plain foods upon waking
  • drinking plenty of fluids, sipping them gradually
  • eating food or drink that contains ginger
  • trying acupressure

A doctor can also recommend an anti-sickness medication, such as antihistamines and antiemetics.

Premenstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can cause physical and emotional symptoms and changes in the time after ovulation and before the start of the menstrual period. These symptoms may occur due to falls in the levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

These changing levels of hormones can have a variety of effects and can include cravings for certain foods or appetite changes.

Treatment for PMS can include:

  • hormonal medication, for example a combined contraceptive pill
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • antidepressants
  • dietary supplements, such as:
  • complementary therapies such as acupuncture and reflexology

Always consult a doctor before taking any new supplements or medications.

Stress

Some people experience cravings with high stress levels. Some foods they crave may be high in sugar or fat, or have a higher sodium content.

For example, one 2017 study observed that stress may link to higher body levels of the ghrelin hormone, which can increase hunger.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following tips for coping with stress:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Aim for at least 7 hours of quality sleep per night.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Try deep breathing, stretching, or meditation techniques.
  • Connect with other people you get along with.
  • Try and do some activities you enjoy.
  • Consider some complementary or alternative therapies, such as:
    • aromatherapy
    • tai chi
    • massage
    • hypnotherapy

If self-management techniques do not help you with stress, contact your doctor for advice. They may recommend medication or psychological therapies, such as talking therapy.

Sleep

People who do not get enough or good quality sleep may have cravings for certain foods.

Researchers hypothesize that this effect is because sleep restriction links to the activation of the body’s endocannabinoid system, which can impact appetite. In a 2016 study, researchers observed that activation of the endocannabinoid system could relate to an excessive food intake in cases of lack of sleep.

You may be able to improve sleep problems by practicing self-management techniques for sleep hygiene.

Clinical treatments for sleep conditions may include sleeping pills or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Read on here for advice on how to get better sleep.

How is craving salt prevented?

Not all conditions causing salt cravings are preventable.

However, you may be able to address some causes of craving salt by supporting general health. General advice for maintaining health can include:

  • ensuring appropriate fluid intake
  • eating a balanced diet
  • hydrating with electrolyte drinks after episodes of excessive fluid loss
  • trying stress management techniques
  • gaining 7 hours of good quality sleep
  • contacting your doctor about any new or persistent symptoms

While you may not be able to prevent all conditions, staying aware of your health and maintaining regular check-ups with your doctor can help you receive early diagnosis and effective treatment.

What to eat when craving salt

Some people may believe that the best way to deal with a salt craving is to consume more salty food.

However, there are many cases when salt cravings do not occur due to a need for more salt. In such cases, increasing salt intake may potentially be harmful, as high salt consumption can have negative health effects, and is a risk factor for many cardiovascular conditions.

It is important to consult a doctor before trying to self-treat salt cravings. Additionally, as salt cravings can occur as a result of a more serious underlying condition, self-treating by consuming more salt may delay diagnosis and effective treatment of the true cause.

There are some conditions that may require a higher salt or electrolyte intake, following a doctor’s advice. These include:

The exact amount of salt to have will vary widely from person to person. Always consult a doctor or a nutritionist licensed to treat medical conditions before making changes to your diet.

Foods that may be suitable for some people who need to take in more salts include:

  • electrolyte drinks or sachets
  • salted snacks, such as chips, nuts, or popcorn
  • salted meats and fish, such as fish in brine
  • olives and pickles
  • cheese
  • sauces
  • instant noodles or other pre-prepared or packaged meals

FAQ

Below are some frequently asked questions about craving salt.

What deficiency causes salt cravings?

Mineral salt deficiencies such as sodium deficiency can lead to a craving for salty foods.

However, there are some conditions and lifestyle factors that may cause salt cravings even when there is no deficiency present.

Does Addison’s disease cause salt cravings?

Addison’s disease can cause salt cravings.

This is because the condition leads to a lack of the hormone aldosterone, which helps maintain the balance of water and salts in the kidneys. Without sufficient levels of this hormone, an imbalance of salts can occur, and this can sometimes present as craving salt.

Why do people with adrenal fatigue crave salt?

Adrenal fatigue is not yet a confirmed disease and does not have scientific proof that supports its profile as a separate medical condition.

However, some researchers believe that it occurs when stress affects the ability of the adrenal glands to produce sufficient levels of hormones. Hypothetically, this may include insufficient levels of aldosterone, which maintains the balance of salts in the kidneys, leading to salt cravings as with Addison’s disease.

However, there is currently no evidence that confirms this relationship.

Summary

Craving salt is common and can result from many kinds of conditions. Causes of salt cravings include behavioral factors, noncancerous processes such as pregnancy, and underlying medical conditions.

Salt cravings can indicate a deficiency of mineral salts. However, they can also occur when there is no extra nutritional need for salt in the body. Conditions such as Addison’s disease, Bartter syndrome, and CF may require additional supplementation with salt.

However, it is important not to increase your salt intake without first consulting a doctor. This will allow you to receive an appropriate diagnosis and avoid delaying any necessary treatment.

Contact a doctor for any new or persistent cravings.

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Medical Reviewer: Katherine Marengo LDN, R.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 8
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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