In a study on juvenile mice and chick embryos published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists at Jinan University in Guangzhou found that the subjects exposed to high levels of salt showed signs of liver fibrosis and increased cell death in the liver.
In cell culture studies, high salt exposure was linked to the production of reactive oxygen species and could be partially alleviated by treatment with vitamin C, which was tested due to its well-known antioxidant properties.
Though the effects of excessive salt intake in adults are well documented, much less is known about its impact on the developing foetus.
“[Our] experiments suggest that high salt intake would lead to high risk of liver damage and fibrosis in both adults and developing embryos,” the authors, led by Yang Xuesong, wrote.
“The pathological mechanism may be the result from an imbalance between oxidative stress and the antioxidant system.”
The authors now intend to explore this mechanism further and identify other antioxidants that could prevent liver damage, Professor Yang told Asian Scientist.
“High salt consumption in adults is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Our study suggests that high salt intake during pregnancy should not be ignored as it not only leads to adult diseases but also negatively affects the development of the foetus,” he said.
“Additionally, the negative impact may be cumulative—i.e. it probably enhances the possibility for suffering from cardiovascular diseases to those individuals when they become adults.”
Though the liver is an important metabolic organ in adults, with liver fibrosis generally progressive and irreversible, scientists have paid little attention to liver damage at the embryonic stage, Prof. Yang added.
The World Health Organisation recommends a maximum salt intake of 5g a day. It estimates that 1.65m deaths a year are due to excess salt consumption, with people in 181 countries consuming more than the recommended limit.