Salt pills, more commonly known as salt tablets, are usually sold as a dietary supplement in the form of buffered sodium. Their purpose is to replace a suspected loss of sodium through sweat during rigorous physical activity over a long period of time. Similarly, those consuming a pure vegan diet may also choose to supplement their sodium intake. It is unlikely that the average person, whether vegan, athletic, or not, will receive advice from a medical professional to take supplemental salt, however.
While many years ago it was more common for athletes to take salt pills, modern sports medicine emphasizes the importance of a proper balance of electrolyte intake. Maintaining a balance of salt and water is crucial to metabolism and bodily function. While triathlon and marathon athletes may still use these supplements, it is a practice that is advisable only when extremely large amounts of water are being consumed and intake is being monitored by a medical professional. In most cases, sports trainers recommend consuming low-sugar sports drinks that have been formulated to contain a proper balance of electrolytes.
The reason salt pills have been deemed unnecessary in most cases is because a majority of people who live in Western countries consume more salt than is recommended. Salt is used in the preparation and preservation of many foods, and those who eat out or eat pre-packaged foods regularly are likely consuming more than enough sodium. Even people who eat a strictly vegetarian diet typically require no salt supplementation.
While a certain amount of sodium in the blood stream is necessary, an excess results in a metabolic imbalance known as hypernatremia, which ultimately can result in seizures and death. Similarly, the opposite condition, hyponatremia, too little sodium, can also be fatal.
Though many individuals, especially those who remember when these pills were a common solution for the loss of sodium through perspiration and were also recommended for leg cramps, are still curious about supplementing salt, it should not be done lightly. Due to the delicate balance of water and sodium, along with other electrolytes, needed for metabolic health, it is not advisable for anyone to take supplements without the advice of a licensed dietitian or other healthcare professional.