IBDers and Salt
Last updated: May 2022
Most of us have heard that excessive salt in our diets is not good for us. It can lead to spikes in blood pressure, heart issues, among other things. However, for those of us who have had our colons removed, do we need to view salt as the enemy?
Missing my colon
Prior to my total colectomy, my doctor explained more about what the colon does and what I may be missing out on once it had been removed. The main thing that was talked about was dehydration and sodium intake. Given your colon/large intestine absorbs water in the body, not having that organ can alter absorption. It is not uncommon for someone with a J-pouch or ostomy to become dehydrated.
I grew up in a salt free home
My dad grew up in a salt-free home. My grandfather had his first heart attack at the age of 40 and ended up having five more before passing away. Therefore, my grandmother didn’t cook with salt and there was minimal salt even allowed in the home. My dad grew up understandably thinking that salt was the enemy and anyone who was trying to live a healthy life, should also stay away.
While that holds true for some people, it isn’t necessarily the case for those of us with inflammatory bowel disease. I am not pushing a salty diet on anyone, nor am I going to tell you excessive salt isn’t right for you. Oftentimes, we can get bombarded with what has been ingrained in us all our life that we find it especially difficult to alter our mindset after something traumatic, like a diagnosis or major surgery.
My appetite increased after surgery
Following my third surgery, I remember having more of an appetite. I had cravings, which I hadn’t experienced for years. It made me happy to feel like I was getting a little better. The fact that I was asking for food thrilled my mom for the same reason. Initially, my dad was ecstatic that I was eating and drinking more. But as time went on and my health became more stable, my dad started paying more attention to what I was eating.
I will admit. I am someone who has always LOVED salt. Soups, V8, chips, pretzels, etc. Once my colon was gone though, I didn’t just love it, I CRAVED it.
I started to eat a lot of salt
I started putting salt on everything. Even things you wouldn’t think like salt on cottage cheese. There have been many times over the years where I have legit poured the salt shaker into my hands and licked it off. Gross, I know, but a way for me to get my sodium intake without having to eat.
I remember the very first time my dad saw me add salt to something I was cooking. At first, he looked and smiled. Then, as I kept adding, he went to take the salt away from me and told me I had enough. The next time my dad witnessed me over-salting something, my mom happened to be in the kitchen with us. When my dad went to comment, my mom told him to stop and let me be.
As time went on, I could tell he was trying to let me do what I wanted but he even said “I am sorry to keep commenting but do you really NEED that much salt? Ugh. It is just so bad for you. Sorry, Ris. I just can’t keep quiet about it.”
I became pretty confused at this point because, on one hand, I had my mom telling me to eat whatever my body was craving. She always told me she believed our bodies let us know what we need through cravings (for the most part). And on the other, I had my dad reinforcing what I had always knew which was that excessive salt could cause health issues.
Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis can be so confusing
Why am I sharing this with you?
I am sharing this with you because I know firsthand how damn confusing Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis can be. From the medications we are told to take, to the dietary alterations we are forced to make, to our social life being altered, to our emotional health changing. IBD can impact so much and cause you to lose yourself in the process. It can make you question yourself. It can make you compare your lifestyle choices to others. IBD can do all sorts of things to our bodies and minds. It is overwhelming and frustrating.
I'm different without a colon
The one thing I had to learn on my own was that having my colon removed did make me different. It changed some of my nutritional needs, including my sodium intake. I went from being someone who loved salt to a true salt-a-holic. I always thought there was something wrong with me. I would even try to get reduced sodium foods because I thought I was really overdoing it. I was afraid for my heart and other organs. Everything my dad had told me my entire life was very valid and something that was in my mind a lot over the years following my total colectomy.
If you are an IBDer who has heavily increased your salt intake following diagnosis or surgery, please know you are not alone. While it is impossible not to compare ourselves to others, it is important to remember how significant dehydration and sodium loss can be. I recommend asking your doctor to do blood work to check your sodium levels if you are worried you are consuming too much. Knowing the sodium aspect of my blood work has been consistent has definitely put my mind at ease. It has also validated the fact that my body needs more salt than your average person.
Have you experienced this before? Any thoughts/tips to navigating it? Or, any thoughts on how to make others understand? Do you even care if other people do in this regard?
Does living with IBD impact you financially?