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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2005 Jun;288(6):R1673-81. Epub 2005 Jan 13.

Increased salt appetite in patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia 21-hydroxylase deficiency.

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Department of Psychology, University of Haifa, Israel 31905.


Salt appetite was investigated in 14 patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia of the salt-wasting form (SW group), 12 patients with the simple virilized form who are not salt losing, and 18 healthy siblings. Salt appetite was evaluated by questionnaire, preference tests, and dietary analyses. The findings showed that SW who were not therapeutically normalized showed increased salt appetite but no change in sweet preference. Their salt appetite correlated with symptoms of salt wasting, namely, plasma renin activity, plasma K(+), and urine Na(+) and (inversely) with blood pressure. Sensitivity to the taste of NaCl was not altered. Factor analyses of a larger group confirmed the distinction between salt appetite and sweet preference, but intake of dietary Na(+) and sweet carbohydrates and intake of salty and sweet snacks did not reflect distinct salt or sweet preferences. We confirm that putative perinatal dehydration, due to maternal nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, childhood vomiting, and diarrhea with occasional saline infusion, was related to increased salt appetite in adolescence. The findings suggest that salt appetite in humans is determined by interdependent, innate, physiological, and acquired attributes. Salt appetite in SW patients is an adaptive response mediated by the renin-angiotensin system, an innate predisposition to acquire salt preference (in anticipation of both sodium loss and its consequence), and imprinting by perinatal hyponatremic occurrences. Our findings contribute to understanding human salt intake, provide insight into the motivation for salt in patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia 21-OH deficiency, and may point the way to improvements in therapeutic compliance in these patients.

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