Sodium - Biological Role

Biological Role

In humans, sodium is an essential nutrient that regulates blood volume, blood pressure, osmotic equilibrium and pH; the minimum physiological requirement for sodium is 500 milligrams per day. Sodium chloride is the principal source of sodium in the diet, and is used as seasoning and preservative, such as for pickling and jerky; most of it comes from processed foods. The DRI for sodium is 2.3 grams per day, but on average people in the United States consume 3.4 grams per day, the minimum amount that promotes hypertension; this in turn causes 7.6 million premature deaths worldwide.

The renin-angiotensin system regulates the amount of fluids and sodium in the body. Reduction of blood pressure and sodium concentration in the kidney result in the production of renin, which in turn produces aldosterone and angiotensin, retaining sodium in the urine. Because of the increase in sodium concentration, the production of renin decreases, and the sodium concentration returns to normal. Sodium is also important in neuron function and osmoregulation between cells and the extracellular fluid, their distribution mediated in all animals by Na+/K+-ATPase; hence, sodium is the most prominent cation in extracellular fluid.

In C4 plants, sodium is a micronutrient that aids in metabolism, specifically in regeneration of phosphoenolpyruvate and synthesis of chlorophyll. In others, it substitutes for potassium in several roles, such as maintaining turgor pressure and aiding in the opening and closing of stomata. Excess sodium in the soil limits the uptake of water due to decreased water potential, which may result in wilting; similar concentrations in the cytoplasm can lead to enzyme inhibition, which in turn causes necrosis and chlorosis. To avoid these problems, plants developed mechanisms that limit sodium uptake by roots, store them in cell vacuoles, and control them over long distances; excess sodium may also be stored in old plant tissue, limiting the damage to new growth.

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