Sodium chloride (NaCl) is an ionic compound comprising elemental sodium (39.34 percent) and chlorine (60.67 percent). This combination of sodium and chlorine can be available naturally in underground deposits or sea water, or manufactured by making sodium chemically react with chlorine. The mineral is naturally available from a couple of sources – sea and land-based salt deposits, as crystals, called halite or rock salt. These crystals are acquired from sea water by evaporation.

Seawater, on an average, contains 3 percent of sodium chloride – ranging between 1 and 5 percent, based on geography. Sodium chloride has a salty taste. But it’s not primarily the reason why sea water tastes salty, as 1-5 percent is too little a population to have a significant impact on the water’s taste. Sea water is salty due to the minor salt content present in rain, lake, and river water that end up in the sea. These add up and lend the sea water its saltiness.

Generally, polar sea waters have a lower sodium chloride content. Unrefined sodium chloride contains enough sodium to kill parasites and bacteria, which also lends the ionic compound its excellent food preservative traits. The mineral also comprises selenium (expels toxic metals from within the body), boron (anti-osteoporosis), and chromium (regulates blood sugar).

Food

Sodium chloride has a major role to play in the human diet. It’s highly soluble and used in food processing (fish, meat, etc.) industries as a seasoning, preservative, or both. The compound is used to preserve margarine, meats, and dairy items as it brings down the pace with which microorganisms grow. The salt goes through a refining process and is transformed into a consumable kitchen commodity once iodine is added.

Sodium chloride is also used to enhance the flavor of food items such as breads and cheeses. Adding sodium chloride to ham and hot dogs improve the food items’ color and overall appearance. Cured or salted meat tend to be tenderer since sodium chloride helps absorb water. Iodized sodium chloride has iodine that’s essential for thyroid hormone synthesis, which impacts metabolic rates, development and growth.

Manufacturing Industry

Chlorine is essential for several chemical processes and the manufacturing of different products such as medicines, pool chemicals, computers, cosmetics, sports equipment, etc. Chlorine items are used in water treatment, metal cleaners, and paper bleach. Sodium chloride has this chlorine, albeit as tightly packed NaCl crystals. The chlorine is separated from the crystals by electrifying salt water, which produces chlorine gas bubbles. The gas is then trapped and liquefied.

Sodium-containing chemical soda ash is used to make water softeners, glass, paper, and soaps. Sodium chloride combines with other elements for use in photography, metallurgy, hide curing (preserving small animal skin, fur, etc.), road construction, etc. It’s also used to make other chemicals such as sodium carbonate, sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), etc.

Medicine

Sodium chloride is a compound the body uses for absorbing and transporting nutrients, maintaining blood pressure and right fluid balance, transmitting nerve signals, and contracting and relaxing muscles. When sodium chloride is added to water, the result is a saline solution that can be used for multiple medical purposes.

The solution is used as IV drips for treating electrolyte imbalances and dehydration. As a nasal drop, a saline solution helps clear congestion and decreases postnasal drip or excessive flow of mucus through the nose. It also helps make mucus so that the foreign particles in the nose can be trapped and coughed out. The saline fluid helps clean wounds and treat eye redness, dryness, and tearing as eye drops.

High volumes of intravenous sodium chloride usage, however, has some side effects, including fluid retention, heart failure, high blood pressure, reactions at the injection site, kidney damage, etc. This explains why doctors recommend low sodium intake to patients who are at risks of heart disease or high blood pressure. Using sodium chloride solutions as per prescribed dosage levels aren’t linked with any serious or life-threatening drug interactions. It’s just that buying them over-the-counter is not recommended as different saline solutions could have different water to sodium chloride ratios.