Salt craving: the psychobiology of pathogenic sodium intake

Physiol Behav. 2008 Aug 6;94(5):709-21. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.04.008. Epub 2008 Apr 13.


Ionic sodium, obtained from dietary sources usually in the form of sodium chloride (NaCl, common table salt) is essential to physiological function, and in humans salt is generally regarded as highly palatable. This marriage of pleasant taste and physiological utility might appear fortunate--an appealing taste helps to ensure that such a vital substance is ingested. However, the powerful mechanisms governing sodium retention and sodium balance are unfortunately best adapted for an environment in which few humans still exist. Our physiological and behavioral means for maintaining body sodium and fluid homeostasis evolved in hot climates where sources of dietary sodium were scarce. For many reasons, contemporary diets are high in salt and daily sodium intakes are excessive. High sodium consumption can have pathological consequences. Although there are a number of obstacles to limiting salt ingestion, high sodium intake, like smoking, is a modifiable behavioral risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases. This review discusses the psychobiological mechanisms that promote and maintain excessive dietary sodium intake. Of particular importance are experience-dependent processes including the sensitization of the neural systems underlying sodium appetite and the effects of sodium balance on hedonic state and mood. Accumulating evidence suggests that plasticity within the central nervous system as a result of experience with high salt intake, sodium depletion, or a chronic unresolved sodium appetite fosters enduring changes in sodium related appetitive and consummatory behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetite / drug effects*
  • Appetite Regulation / physiology
  • Appetitive Behavior / drug effects
  • Eating / drug effects
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / drug effects
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Motivation
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Rats
  • Reward
  • Sodium, Dietary / pharmacology*
  • Taste / drug effects*
  • Taste / physiology


  • Sodium, Dietary