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Drinking Salt Water: Benefits & Do You Need To? 

7 min read
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Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

If you have heard that you should be drinking salt water or even sea salt water, you may wonder what the benefits of adding salt to drinking water are, if any.

Is it okay to drink salt water? 

In this article, we will dive into the potential benefits of drinking salt water, any risks, and if you should begin putting salt in your water. Read on to learn more. 

What Does Salt Water Do To Your Body?

Sodium is an essential mineral in the diet that functions to promote fluid balance in the body. 

While the terms “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably, such as in this article, sodium refers to the mineral itself, while salt refers to sodium chloride or NaCl. Sodium chloride is a chemical compound that contains sodium and chlorine and is also known as table salt.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sodium is important to maintain fluid and blood volume in the body alongside other minerals, such as magnesium and potassium. [1] Sodium is termed an electrolyte (alongside potassium, chlorine, and magnesium) that controls how much water is moving in and out of the cells in the body.

All this is to say that the idea of putting salt in water stems from the concept of hydration and fluid-electrolyte balance in the body.

However, aside from exceptional situations such as intense exercise, perspiration, and vomiting, it is typically not necessary to consume extra salt in the diet. 

Modern Diet is Already Too High in Sodium

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day, which is equivalent to one teaspoon. In fact, consuming even less salt, such as no more than 1,500 milligrams daily, is even more ideal for cardiovascular and overall health. [2]

Many individuals already have a diet that is too high in salt through consuming fast foods, processed snack foods, and more. 

For example, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food database, a fast food cheeseburger contains over 650 milligrams of sodium. [3] Additionally, a small order of french fries can contain around 400 milligrams as well. [4]

Therefore, just consuming this typical meal of a cheeseburger and fries can add up to over 1000 milligrams of your sodium, almost half of your daily recommended amount. 

Are There Any Benefits of Drinking Salt Water?

With so many beverage options available, such as Gatorade, Propel water, sodas, and more, what is salt water good for? Here we will discuss a few unique situations in which drinking salt water may be beneficial. 

Let’s say you lose fluids and electrolytes through sweating, exercise, diarrhea, or vomiting. In these cases, the water and salt loss can contribute to dehydration, making you feel thirsty. Here is where sports drinks and electrolyte drinks can be helpful. 

Drinking salt water can theoretically be beneficial to replenish the loss of electrolytes in these cases. However, regular sports drinks and electrolyte drinks contain multiple electrolytes, such as potassium and magnesium, to better promote hydration than just consuming sodium alone. 

Additionally, there are no evidence-based studies or experimental trials examining the safety or efficacy of drinking salt water. Therefore, research does not indicate that drinking salt water has any health benefits, including for hydration.

Risks of Drinking Salt Water

Since it is much easier to go overboard with salt intake rather than be deficient in it, let’s discuss some of the health risks associated with a diet high in sodium.

According to the journal Nutrients, a high sodium diet can primarily contribute to cardiovascular disease, including the following [6]

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Heart Failure

Risks of a Diet Too Low in Sodium

While too much sodium can pose health risks, too little sodium in the diet can cause problems as well.

Even though a  diet too low in sodium is unlikely, it is possible. According to the European Journal of Endocrinology, here are some risks of sodium deficiency in your diet. [5]

  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Seizures and coma (in severe cases)

Who Will Benefit from Drinking Salt Water?

Let’s discuss more about the different categories of individuals who would potentially benefit from drinking salt water. 


A small-scale study published in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine examined ten athletes who exercised in the heat. [7] The study found that drinking just plain water after exercise made muscles more susceptible to cramping, while an oral rehydration drink, such as an electrolyte or sports drink, decreased cramping. 

Therefore, electrolytes, such as sodium, are beneficial after intense exercise that involves excessive sweating, including marathons, triathlons, HIIT workouts, and more. 

If you are an athlete or participate in intense exercise regularly, speaking with a registered sports dietitian nutritionist can help you determine your individual fluid needs. Through this, you’ll learn how to adequately replace electrolytes before, during, and after physical activity.

Individuals Experiencing Vomiting or Diarrhea

Excessive vomiting or diarrhea, whether caused by a sickness, side effect of a medication, or laxative use, can increase the risk of dehydration because of fluid and electrolyte loss. In these cases, salt water can be beneficial, but consuming an oral rehydration drink may be more helpful. 

How Much Salt Should You Add to Your Drink?

According to the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, in an average exercise session with a perspiration rate of 0.5 to 1.5 liters per hour, you may lose between 20 and 90 mmol of sodium. [8] This amount is equivalent to 460 to 2070 mg of sodium lost.

Keeping in mind that 2300 milligrams of sodium are equal to one teaspoon, you would need to add 1/5 of a teaspoon (460 milligrams) to just under one teaspoon of sodium (2070 milligrams) to replace the sodium lost. 

What Salt to Use

Regarding the appropriate salts to use, all salt in our diets consists of sodium and chlorine and therefore contains sodium. In other words, you can use regular table salt, sea salt, iodized salt, et cetera.

Final Thoughts

Let’s wrap up the key takeaways from this article.

  • Many claim that drinking salt water can aid in hydration, fluid balance, and more because it contains the essential mineral and electrolyte sodium. 
  • Drinking salt water is often unnecessary because most individuals already consume enough sodium from food.
  • The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily. Consuming a diet too high in sodium can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and more.
  • Sodium loss can occur through sweating, intense exercise, vomiting, and diarrhea. In these situations, electrolytes such as sodium can be beneficial for rehydration. However, a regular sports drink or electrolyte drink is preferred to plain salt water as it contains potassium, magnesium, and more in addition to sodium.
  • You can lose up to 2000 milligrams of sodium from an exercise session that involves intense activity and sweating. However, there is no evidence or research that shows that drinking salt water alone is safe or effective for hydration. 
  • A registered dietitian that specializes in working with athletes can help ensure you are replenishing fluids and electrolytes correctly when working out. 

Please speak with your physician and registered dietitian before drinking salt water if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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