THE SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© April 2010, The Center For Development
An entire book could easily be written about the ratio of sodium to potassium on a hair mineral analysis. Dr. Eck called this ratio the vitality ratio. Earlier in his life, he called it the life-death ratio, as it is so important. It could also be called the electrical ratio or the internal ratio.
Dr. Eck found that the ideal hair sodium/potassium ratio is about 2.4-2.5 up to about 4-5. It is critical that the hair is not washed at the laboratory for accurate sodium and potassium readings. Only Analytical Research Labs and Trace Minerals, Inc. offer the hair mineral test without washing the hair at the laboratory. We much prefer Analytical Research Labs as the graph is easier to read, the numbers may be more accurate, out of range numbers are automatically repeated at no charge and their program recommendations are better.
THEMES BY WHICH TO UNDERSTAND THE SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
Sodium and potassium are both associated with the activity of the adrenal glands. However, potassium is also more influenced by the activity of the thyroid gland. One might say that sodium is more of a pure adrenal indicator, although all the minerals affect each other to a degree. Meanwhile, potassium often reflects imbalances associated with thyroid problems, which are very common today. Dr. Eck said that potassium is needed to sensitize the tissues to thyroid hormone.
Sodium is forward-moving, and associated with adrenal stress. Potassium is more associated with backward-movement, a concept explained below in more detail. However, it is associated with slow forward movement when less than about 5 mg%.
Sodium is more about basic strength and power, such as that found in the adrenal glands. This is more related to the first and second chakras of the physical body.
Potassium is more about impulsiveness and willfulness, as represented by the thyroid gland and the fourth and fifth chakras of the physical body. For more on chakras read The Chakra System Of The Body.
Sodium covers and protects potassium. When sodium is high relative to potassium, for example, a person generally has plenty of power or energy with which to function and express one’s will. When the ratio is low, however, there is not enough power to cover the willfulness of the person. As a result, stress and disease often set in and stress becomes chronic and more intense.
Potassium liberates and frees sodium. This means that potassium, the will or higher will, uses and assists sodium - the adrenal energy, adaptive energy or vitality of the person - to act.
A directional indicator of the oxidation rate. A high sodium/potassium ratio is more associated with a rising oxidation rate. A low sodium/potassium ratio is more associated with a collapsing or lowering of the oxidation rate. It is an excellent indicator.
Hormonal relationships. Hormonal relationships are rough associations. However, they are very important and interesting relationships. Among the adrenal hormones, sodium is more associated with aldosterone, while potassium is more related to cortisol and cortisone. Sodium is more associated with the fast-acting adrenal hormones, while potassium is more associated with the longer-acting or slower-acting adrenal hormones.
Among the female hormones, sodium is more associated with estrogen levels, while potassium is more associated with progesterone levels. This can become important in conditions such as premenstrual syndrome and estrogen dominance.
An inflammation indicator. Higher aldosterone than cortisol, represented by a high sodium/potassium ratio, is more associated with inflammation because aldosterone is a more inflammatory hormone, whereas cortisol and cortisone are more anti-inflammatory hormones.
In contrast, lower aldosterone and higher cortisol or cortisone levels, represented by a lower sodium/potassium ratio, is more associated with a degenerative state, rather than an inflammatory state. This may also be called a more catabolic state, or one in which the body is breaking down tissue faster than it is regenerating tissue. It is known that tissue breakdown and catabolism is one action of cortisol and cortisone.
Other mineral relationships. Zinc raises potassium and lowers sodium. Copper raises sodium a little, and can lower potassium somewhat. There are other relationships as well, such as the effects of manganese, chromium, selenium, vitamins and others on the sodium/potassium ratio.
IMBALANCES IN THE SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO -
SYMPTOMS OF A HIGH NA/K RATIO
As the sodium/potassium ratio rises on a hair mineral analysis above about 5 or perhaps 6, more symptoms involving this ratio are likely to arise. These may include a tendency for acute stress, inflammation or pain somewhere in the body. Other symptoms may include water retention, edema, and perhaps a higher blood pressure or a labile or fluctuating blood pressure due to water retention and/or kidney stress. These are among the prominent physical symptoms that come with higher aldosterone levels in relation to cortisol, for example.
When the ratio is above about 12, it is an indicator for liver and kidney stress in some cases. Interestingly, this is found in a low sodium/potassium ratio as well.
The Na/K Ratio and PMS. In young adult women, a high sodium/potassium ratio can be more associated with high-estrogen premenstrual tension with symptoms of inflammation, anger, acne, bloating and breast swelling and tenderness. As a general rule, the sodium/potassium ratio rises before the menstrual period. For much more information about PMS, read Premenstrual Syndrome.
Emotional and mental symptoms of a high sodium/potassium ratio. These may include a tendency for anger or acute emotional stress. A mildly high ratio may also indicate a forward-looking attitude, moving ahead in life, and a more positive, future-oriented approach to life.
Combinations. A high sodium/potassium ratio may combine with other patterns and these may alter its meaning a little, though usually not much. The main patterns it participates with are fast and slow oxidation rates, a hill pattern, and a double high ratio pattern. It is also commonly found with a sympathetic dominance pattern.
SYMPTOMS OF A LOW SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
Physical symptoms. Dr. Eck found that a low sodium/potassium ratio is associated with fatigue, sugar and carbohydrate intolerance, allergies, adrenal weakness, chronic infections, liver and kidney stress, cardiovascular stress, reduced immune response and possibly malignancy, and a more catabolic state or state of tissue breakdown.
The physical and physiological imbalances above can be expanded upon. For example, tissue breakdown can cause arthritis, ulcers, and practically any other disease depending upon where the tissue breakdown occurs. Cardiovascular stress can easily lead to a heart attack or stroke, and so on.
Mental and emotional symptoms. Dr Eck found that a low sodium/potassium ratio is associated with negative thinking and negative emotions in most cases. Prominent among these are frustration, resentment and hostility. It is also associated with reduced awareness in many cases, chronic stress, and “beating one’s head against a wall when the door is nearby”.
When the ratio is less than 1, often a person has hidden traumas that he or she is not aware of. The very low sodium/potassium ratio can perhaps be a protection against feeling the pain of the trauma. This can make the person appear to be less emotional, in fact. As the Na/K ratio approaches about 1 during correction on a nutritional balancing program, the traumas may surface, causing more feelings of anger, depression or others as the awareness grows.
Degree of low sodium/potassium ratio important. Both the physical and emotional symptoms tend to become more pronounced as the sodium/potassium ratio becomes lower. A ratio less than about 2 is moderate, while a ratio less than 1 is considered extreme.
High Na/K Ratio
Low Na/k Ratio
More acute stress
More chronic stress
Acute: anger, rage, acute stress
Chronic: frustration, resentment, hostility
More reactive tissues and organism
Less reactive, more fatigued
Stage of stress
STRESS AND THE SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
Acute stress. A high sodium/potassium ratio on a hair analysis is more associated with acute stress. The reason is as follows:
1) Acute stress causes increased adrenal gland activity.
2) This results in a rise in the secretion of the hormone aldosterone.
3) Aldosterone secretion causes sodium to be retained in the body by the kidneys. Thus the sodium level in the soft tissues rises.
Sodium retention by aldosterone is part of the alarm reaction or fight-flight reaction to stress. Early in the alarm reaction, the potassium level remains low. Thus, on a tissue mineral test, the ratio of sodium to potassium is elevated early in the alarm stage of stress.
Chronic stress. In contrast, a low sodium/potassium ratio is more associated with chronic stress and usually an exhaustion stage of stress. This is because a low sodium/potassium ratio is an indicator of adrenal weakness.
Acute stress or alarm reactions in slow oxidation. Some people ask how it is possible to have an alarm reaction if one is a slow oxidizer or in an exhaustion stage of stress. The answer is that fast and slow oxidation are indicators or a more yang or more yin body situation or posturing. They are also associated with the alarm and the exhaustion stages of stress according to the stress theory of disease.
However, Dr. Eck found that within slow oxidation or an exhaustion stage of stress or a yin condition, one can still mount an acute stress response. This is indicated by a high sodium/potassium ratio and is a common occurrence. In fact, it is essential if a person is to move out of slow oxidation.
Double acute stress. A fast oxidizer with a high sodium/potassium ratio is a double inflammation pattern.
Double chronic stress. A slow oxidizer with a low sodium/potassium ratio means a double exhaustion pattern, which is definitely less desirable.
MORE ON INFLAMMATION
Aldosterone is a pro-inflammatory hormone. It tends to increase inflammation in the body. Cortisol and cortisone, associated more with potassium levels, are anti-inflammatory hormones because they diminish inflammation. The pro and anti-inflammatory hormones must be in a good balance with each other for optimum health.
A person with a high sodium/potassium ratio may be secreting more aldosterone, in relation to cortisol. Because there is more pro-inflammatory hormone, a tendency for inflammation exists in the body. This is particularly true when the sodium/potassium ratio is greater than 10:1.
Inflammation can take the form of any 'itis', such as arthritis, bursitis, colitis, or tendonitis. It is a tendency for aches and pains. A high sodium/potassium ratio is also a tendency for mental excitation. A ratio that persists between 3 and 6 suggests a forward-looking person. A ratio greater than 6:1 suggests aggressiveness and anger.
SYMPATHETIC DOMINANCE – A SECONDARY INDICATOR IS A HIGH SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
A hair sodium/potassium ratio above about 5 or 6 is also a secondary indicator only of a sympathetic dominant personality type. These are individuals who overuse the sympathetic or fight-or-flight nervous system. They are usually very active, either mentally, physically or both. The tendency is greater when the Na/K ratio is above about 12.
These people may overdo on exercise, run around a lot, worry a lot or, in some other way, keep themselves in a fight-or-flight mode. Note that the body becomes exhausted from this tendency, and has gone into a parasympathetic state of slow oxidation. However, the person keeps right on using the sympathetic system instead of slowing down. This prevents the recovery of health.
Note: the primary indicator for sympathetic dominance is a low potassium level, not the sodium/potassium ratio. This is discussed more in the article entitled Sympathetic Dominance.
SOME TOXIC METALS CAN ELEVATE THE SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
Hidden or overt copper, cadmium and mercury toxicity usually elevate sodium levels and can cause a higher sodium/potassium ratio. This is true even if the cadmium or mercury are hidden within body tissues and not revealed on the hair test. As cadmium, copper or mercury are eliminated, a retest mineral analysis will reveal an improved sodium/potassium ratio.
An exception is if a retest is performed during a toxic metal elimination. The sodium/potassium ratio may temporarily rise or fall as any toxic metal is being eliminated. This occurs because the metals irritate the kidneys. This may cause the sodium/potassium ratio to be temporarily skewed. The ratio will normalize when the metal elimination is complete.
ALUMINUM TOXICITY, ALONG WITH BIOUNAVAILABLE IRON AND/OR MANGANESE CAN ELEVATE THE SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
A higher ratio of sodium to potassium may also be due to an accumulation of toxic amounts of aluminum in the body. This will elevate the Na/K ratio, as will an excess of biologically unavailable manganese or iron. This is a very common situation, and true in practically all slow oxidizers. The metals appear to be in the form of oxides, which are damaging and can cause oxidant damage and tissue irritation.
Manganese and iron are not toxic metals. However, when present in excess, usually in a biounavailable form, they seem to raise the sodium level in relation to the potassium level. This may occur because they irritate the adrenal glands, or perhaps the kidneys, or perhaps other structures, in such a way as to alter the balance of sodium in relation to potassium.
We know this because as excesses of these metals are eliminated, the sodium to potassium ratio decreases, often substantially.
The amigos. Since they are often found together in the body, these metals are called the amigos. One can read more about iron, manganese and aluminum in the article entitled The Three Amigos.
THE HILL AND BOWL PATTERNS
A sodium/potassium ratio greater than about 4 or 5, in combination with a calcium/magnesium ratio less than about 3-4, is called a hill pattern. The calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium levels on a calibrated graph, especially from Analytical Research Laboratories, appear in the shape of a hill.
In our experience, this is an indicator that one has “turned a corner”, moved on, overcome some blockage, or some other change for the better has occurred.
Explanation. The low calcium/magnesium ratio indicates a lack of defensiveness, or a certain openness or strength of the personality. The high sodium/potassium ratio indicates moving forward. Hair must not be washed at the laboratory for accurate sodium and potassium readings. This pattern appears to be more reliable on retests, in general, than on initial hair tests. Also, it is not always present, meaning that it is not as reliable a pattern as most of the others on a hair mineral analysis.
The bowl pattern. This is a combination of a low sodium/potassium ratio and a high calcium/magnesium ratio. It is essentially the opposite of the hill pattern described above. It is associated with feeling emotionally stuck. It combines defensiveness (a high calcium/magnesium ratio) or an imbalanced lifestyle in some way, with frustration and resentment (a low sodium/potassium ratio). They combine to cause a person to feel stuck.
Fortunately, the pattern usually goes away on its own with a nutritional balancing program. This would indicate that nutritional imbalances play an important role in the pattern. In some cases, however, it is more psychologically-caused. In these cases, the issues that created the pattern must be undone for it do go away.
SALT-EATING AND THE SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
Many people assume that a high sodium/potassium ratio indicates an excessive salt intake. While possibly true, in many instances salt eating has little impact upon the sodium/potassium ratio.
A high ratio frequently occurs in people who consume no salt whatsoever! The main causes of a high sodium/potassium ratio are excessive aldosterone secretion due to stress or anger, toxic metals or a zinc and magnesium deficiency. Salt-eating plays a secondary role.
We recommend everyone avoid table salt, which is a very poor quality food. One may have sea salt (unrefined salt), which contains more magnesium and trace elements.
We recommend limiting salt slightly when the sodium/potassium ratio is above 12, especially if blood pressure is elevated. However, it is not usually necessary to eliminate all salt from the diet. Also, sea salt is often tolerated much better than table salt.
KIDNEY AND LIVER STRESS AND THE IMMUNE RESPONSE
A sodium/potassium ratio greater than about 10 or less than about 1.5 often indicates kidney stress, liver stress and perhaps an impaired immune response.