Salt Taste Receptors

Salt Taste Receptors

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. These minerals act as electrolytes in the body and help with fluid balance, nerve transmission and muscle function. Salt is found naturally in most foods but it is also added to foods to improve flavour and preserve food. Although salt is an essential part of a healthy diet, a high salt intake can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. The genes SCNN1B and the TRPV1 can affect the taste perception of salt. Individuals with lower taste perception of salt are at higher risk of hypertension as a result of increased salt consumption.

What are the SCNN1B and the TRPV1 genes?

The SCNN1B gene encodes an epithelial sodium channel, which transports sodium into and out of cells. In this way, they regulate the amount of sodium in the body, which in turn helps control the movement of water in the body.

The TRPV1 gene encodes a TRPV1 channel which transports ions such as sodium.  

What is the effect of genetic variation at these genes?

In individuals with no SNP, high salt intake results in increased expression of the genes, which results in more channels to absorb salt and prevent salt induced increases in blood pressure.

Individuals with an allele cannot increase the genes’ expression in response to high salt intake and therefore there is no increase in the number of channels on the cell surface. This renders them sensitive to salt load in terms of blood pressure regulation. Furthermore, individuals with the risk allele perceive salt less intensely than those with no risk alleles.

What is hypertension?

Hypertension refers to elevated blood pressure levels exceeding 140/90 mmHg (according to WHO criteria). Hypertension is one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke myocardial infraction and renal disease. It affects around 20% of the adult population in Western societies.

How does salt increase blood pressure?

Consuming salt increases the amount of sodium in the blood, which causes an influx of water into the blood. This increases blood pressure and also results in an increase in cardiac output because of an increase in preload of the left ventricle, which occurs following sodium consumption.

Why is it important to not elimainte salt completely from your diet?

Despite the risks associated with high salt intake, salt is an essential part of a healthy diet and is required for processes such as maintaining nerve functioning. Salt is especially important in individuals who regularly participate in intense exercise as it is required for smooth muscle contraction, the production of sweat and reducing muscle cramps. Someone who regularly exercises intensely and usually only eats home cooked food should check that their salt-intake is sufficient. If it isn’t, it can actually be beneficial to add a little salt to food when cooking.

Backed by Science

Our in-house scientists have sorted through thousands of studies and we only use genes that are backed by a significant body of peer-reviewed research. Check out Nell’s Science Standard for more information.