More often than not, the conversation about what to eat, consume, swallow, etc. when hiking in the warm hot Arizona desert comes up – and this includes Grand Canyon. And on occasion, someone suggests that taking salt tablets or consuming high concentrations of sodium is a better option in replacing electrolytes than just eating salty snacks. The short answer – bad idea, don’t do it. But most of us don’t just take no for any answer and others will still disagree even when a valid explanation is provided – so for those of you who appreciate reasons and will also take them into consideration, here is the long story.
Salt loss is ALWAYS a concern when hiking Grand Canyon (generally May through Sept but April and October can also get hot). We never recommend you take a salt tablet in lieu of salty foods to replace salt lost in sweat and urine. This is the old school solution and one that most doctors would not agree to unless under their guidance. The high concentrations of sodium in salt tablets can irritate your stomach lining and cause you to vomit – which is counterproductive and can cause dehydration. When you consume high concentration of salt, a condition called Hypernatremia can occur.
Hypernatremia is when the sodium levels in your blood are too high and can range from mild to severe, and includes symptoms such as muscle spasm, irritability, restlessness, nausea and vomiting. In severe cases, brain hemorrhage, seizures, coma and death can occur. Remember too that you do need energy when replacing salt and tablets do not give you the necessary calories needed to participate in endurance activities. Plus, snacking stimulates thirst and this makes you drink water – an important mechanism in balancing the sodium and water concentrations in cells – remember BIO 101 – the building blocks of life. Unhealthy cells equal unhealthy you.
So don’t be afraid of that yummy, salty bag of pretzels. Those Rold Golds could very well save your life!