Depressing evidence of salt addiction

You’d think I’d want to stay away from salt. After all, my depression is caused by winter, and salt looks like snow, right? Or maybe it’s the opposite, since in theory if I had enough salt I could melt off all the snow in sight. There are two drawbacks to that: First, it would still be cold and dark, and second, instead of snow I’d be seeing nothing but foliage that’s dried out and lifeless, and don’t we get enough of that from post-election politicians?

Then there’s the part about needing several tons of salt and a helicopter, of course.

Forget it, bad idea. The point is, for most of my life I haven’t stayed away from salt, and now I think I know why. My blood pressure has always been low, so I figured where’s the harm in covering all my food in a white crust of my favorite mineral? My brother used to do the same thing with ketchup, and at least with me it didn’t look like I’d engaged in a fight to the death with dinner.

Sadly, it turns out that salt contributes to high cholesterol, and that’s a problem I do have. But I also have Seasonal Affected Disorder, otherwise known as SAD, the most appropriately named condition in history. So, naturally, it would turn out that I’d have to cut back on salt at the exact same time that I discovered salt may be Mother Nature’s very own antidepressant, and have you ever seen Mother Nature depressed?

University of Iowa researchers – and who knows wintertime depression better than an upper Midwest state? – must have had some salt shakers and a few extra rats sitting around one day, and maybe a federal grant from some favorite politician. So, they ordered McDonald’s and spent a long night feeding fries to the little rodents. I’m talking the rats, not the politicians. Although if you’ve looked at politicians lately …

They discovered that when rats are deficient in sodium chloride – in other words, their salt level is low – the little guys tend to give up on activities they normally enjoy, such as drinking sugary drinks, surfing Internet porn, and applying for federal grants to study researchers.

Their conclusion: Without enough salt, the rats got depressed. That, they say, could explain why people tend to intake too much salt when they’re feeling down, despite knowing full well that salt is bad for them.

In fact, since salt activates the brain’s pleasure mechanism and tends to be overused, it might qualify as an abused, addictive substance. Yep. A drug.

The FDA’s going to be all over this.

I’ve got a couple of problems with the whole thing. First of all, when I get depressed I don’t stop enjoying the things I normally like: I seek them out more. Chocolate, salt, and sleep – three of my top five favorite things, and the three things I seek out the most all winter. Frankly, sleeping through the winter, with occasional pauses for a Snickers bar and a bag of corn chips while curled up with a good book about chocolate and salt, would suit me just fine.

Second, if everything people overdo despite knowing it’s bad for them is a drug addiction, we’re in real trouble.

There are the obvious culprits, of course: Drugs, alcohol, reality TV, and other things which are clear and present danger to our society. If anything should be banned by the government, it’s every single one of the Real Housewives of Whatever City or State.

Then there are the equally hazardous but not quite as obvious dangers: Video games, the Internet, Lindsay Lohan. Stuff that’s not so bad in small amounts, but that people tend to overdo to the point of making themselves ill. I used to be that way with ham, but since the cholesterol thing started every time I mention anything related to hogs my fiancée hits me upside the head with a salt shaker. They don’t hurt as much now, since she emptied the salt out after catching me sprinkling it on my tongue.

After that, we learn quickly that we here in America are just an addictive people by nature. Ever since Davy Crockett killed him a bear when he was only three, because he craved the fur, we’ve been overdoing it. I used to be addicted to reading: I’d take home the maximum permitted number of books every week, until the librarians staged an intervention and told me to go meet girls. Then I got addicted to girls.

We become addicted to our favorite foods, actors, types of music, foods. I said food twice to cover every pound. We “collect” way more than we could ever really use of shoes (which we can at least tell ourselves are practical) along with anything we can put together on shelves, from ceramic angels to Matchbox sized fire trucks (that would be me) to tiny spoons and shot glasses.

So, a salt addiction? No, if anything our overuse of salt is just a symptom of what’s happening to the average Joe all across the world: If they’ve got any extra money at all, they feel this overwhelming need to get more of something than they need. If we’re addicted to anything, it’s Stuff.

Of course, I don’t know too many people who have salt collections. Maybe a few salt of the earth types. In the end, maybe our desire for salt comes from the fact that for much of human history salt was a rare commodity. Maybe this is some kind of group memory, where we crave salt to overcome any future shortage.

Or maybe our food’s just bland. Pass that shaker, please.

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