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After completing this article, readers should be able to:
Recognize the different body fluid compartments and the percentage of body fluid with different ages.
Know how the equilibrium between extracellular fluid and intracellular fluid is maintained.
Describe how to calculate the plasma osmolality by using electrolytes, blood urea nitrogen, and glucose concentration.
List the daily requirements for sodium.
Discuss the relationship between serum sodium concentration and total body sodium content.
Understand the relationship between chronic sodium depletion and intravascular volume depletion.
Primitive, single-celled organisms began their ocean life continually surrounded by water and a steady supply of nutrients. As more complex organisms developed and finally left the oceans for dry land, the external sea had to be internalized. The great 19th century physiologist Claude Bernard coined the term “milieu interior” to describe that internal environment. He said that our escape from the sea was due to our ability to control our internal environment, a concept we now call homeostasis. Humans have developed sophisticated homeostatic mechanisms that control salt and water metabolism. This dynamic process changes with age and sex and in response to a variety of disturbances. In this article, we discuss fluid and electrolyte homeostasis as well as selected fluid and electrolyte problems seen within the pediatric age group.
Body Fluid Compartments and Growth
Water is the most abundant compound within the human body. It can be found within cells, around cells, within the blood vessels, and in smaller amounts within ligaments and bones. The percentage of body water changes with age and body composition. Early in gestation, almost 90% of a fetus’s body weight is water. This ratio falls to 80% in severely preterm infants, 70% in term infants, 65% in young children, and approximately 60% in older children and adolescents. Body water is distributed into two main compartments: the intracellular and the …
Can humans drink seawater?
Seawater contains salt. When humans drink seawater, their cells are thus taking in water and salt. While humans can safely ingest small amounts of salt, the salt content in seawater is much higher than what can be processed by the human body.
Additionally, when we consume salt as part of our daily diets, we also drink liquids, which help to dilute the salt and keep it at a healthy level.
Living cells do depend on sodium chloride (salt) to maintain the body’s chemical balances and reactions; however, too much sodium can be deadly.
Human kidneys can only make urine that is less salty than salt water.
Therefore, to get rid of all the excess salt taken in by drinking seawater, you have to urinate more water than you drank. Eventually, you die of dehydration even as you become thirstier.
How the body regulates salt levels
Sodium chloride, commonly called dietary salt, is essential to our body. But a high salt intake can raise blood pressure, which can damage the body in many ways over time.
However, not everyone is equally sensitive to high levels of salt.
We drink more and excrete more urine, through which the body expels excess salt.
Dr. Jens Titze
To gain insight into this process, a team led by Dr. Jens Titze at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany took the opportunity to study men participating in a simulated space flight program.
Between 2009 and 2011, they tightly controlled the daily salt intake of 10 men simulating a flight to Mars: four in a 105-day pre-flight phase and six others for 205 days.
The men were given 12 grams of salt per day, 9 g/day, or 6 g/day for 30–60 days. The researchers collected all the men’s urine for testing.
The scientists were surprised to find that, whatever the level of salt consumed, sodium was stored and released from the men’s bodies in roughly weekly and monthly patterns.
The team uncovered similar rhythms for the hormones aldosterone, which regulates sodium excretion from the kidney, and glucocorticoids, which help regulate metabolism.
Titze, now at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, continued to examine the long-term control of sodium and water balance in the men. To better understand the mechanisms at work, his team also performed experiments in mice.
Their latest results appeared in two papers on May 1, 2017, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The work was funded in part by NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Changing salt intake affected levels of both aldosterone and glucocorticoids, the hormones found to rhythmically control the body’s salt and water balance.
These, in turn, had a number of interesting effects in the body. Increasing salt intake increased sodium excretion, but also unexpectedly caused the kidney to conserve water.
Excess sodium was thus released in concentrated urine. This method of protecting the body’s water was so efficient that the men actually drank less when their salt intake was highest.
How does salt and sodium impact the human body?
A constant health message that the public hears is “reduce intake of salt and sodium.” Where do salt and sodium come from and why does consuming too much put our health at risk?
The human body does need a small amount of sodium to function. These functions include: Conducting nerve impulses, contracting and relaxing muscles and maintaining the proper balance of water and minerals. Most Americans consume far too much sodium in their daily diet.