Psychological stress is a common feature of modern day societies, and contributes to the global burden of disease. It was proposed by Henry over 20 years ago that the salt intake of a society reflects the level of stress, and that stress, through its effect on increasing salt intake, is an important factor in the development of hypertension. This review evaluates the evidence from animal and human studies to determine if stress does induce a salt appetite and increase salt consumption in human subjects. Findings from animal studies suggest that stress may drive salt intake, with evidence for a potential mechanism via the sympatho-adrenal medullary system and/or the hypothalamo–pituitary–adrenal axis. In contrast, in the few laboratory studies conducted in human subjects, none has found that acute stress affects salt intake. However, one study demonstrated that life stress (chronic stress) was associated with increased consumption of snack foods, which included, but not specifically, highly salty snacks. Studies investigating the influence of chronic stress on eating behaviours are required, including consumption of salty foods. From the available evidence, we can conclude that in free-living, Na-replete individuals, consuming Na in excess of physiological requirements, stress is unlikely to be a major contributor to salt intake.
(Received September 04 2009)
(Revised February 04 2010)
(Accepted February 24 2010)
(Online publication April 26 2010)
Abbreviations: BP, blood pressure