Too often, salt is forgotten in its shaker, but the grainy, white stuff can get strange. Its influences range from bizarre reactions inside the human body to when stars die.
Salt can solve mysteries, help us explore space, and reveal Earth’s past. The most fascinating is sodium’s dual role of danger and savior: It kills millions every year but also offers a cheap weapon against infections and climate change.
When someone arrives at the hospital, they go through debridement, which is basically the cleansing of any wounds with soap and water. Yet, thousands of patients need treatment for infections that occur after injuries are cleaned.
In 2015, doctors launched a study to see if salt water might prevent this from happening. They threw the remedy in at the deep end. Forget using a saline solution on paper cuts. Surgeons used it to clean open breaks on patients from five countries.
Around 2,400 people were treated with either a saline wash or soap and water. The patients were monitored for a year to document any infections. During this time, most patients who returned for additional operations were the ones who had their wounds soaped. Those who received a saltwater cleansing were less prone to infections, and their injuries healed better.
The difference was so significant that if doctors adopt the salty treatment, it could lead to a cheap way to disinfect serious injuries. This is good news for Third World countries where 90 percent of the world’s traffic deaths happen.
9Salt Causes Brain Inflammation
In 2018, researchers put mice on a high-salt diet and the results were scary. Mice are highly intelligent mammals, but the sodium dumbed them down. They performed badly in maze tests, and reactions to whisker stimulation or new objects were tepid.
Previously, salt-induced cognitive issues were believed to happen because of high blood pressure. However, the study proved that salt could mess up important parts of the brain even without blood pressure issues.
Decreased blood flow to the cortex and hippocampus impaired learning and memory. This was the end result of a crazy thing that the immune system did. When it detected too much salt in the animal’s gut, inflammatory signals were sent to the brain to compromise blood vessels and thinking.
The gut’s independent signaling is already responsible for other diseases linked to poor brain blood vessels—multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease. But this is the first time that salt was identified as a trigger for the dangerous inflammation.
On a positive note, the mice recovered their smarts when they were switched to a low-sodium diet or gut signals were disrupted by drugs.
8The Salt Tooth
Many people are the delicious owner of a sweet tooth. Evidence now also points to the existence of a genetic salt tooth.
In 2016, a study followed 400 locals in Kentucky who were all at risk for heartdisease. They kept food diaries and gave DNA samples. Among the volunteers were individuals who carried a gene variation called TAS2R48. Previously linked to a greater sensitivity to taste bitterness, the gene also appeared to make certain people love salt.
In fact, the volunteers with TAS2R48 were twice as likely to consume more than the safe amount of salt as compared to those without the gene. Worse, the gene could be why people who taste bitterness more vividly (and hate it) sprinkle even more salt to make food taste better.
The discovery of the “salt tooth” gene is the first step in helping those with TAS2R48 to make food choices that won’t cause blood pressure issues, which may cause heart disease or shortened lives.
When Simon Campbell, a stellar astrophysicist from Australia, found old research papers from the 1980s, he realized that they contradicted an established belief. This belief stated that all the stars in a given cluster evolve in a similar way.
However, the 1980 papers described differences within a group called NGC 6752. Moreover, the older study claimed that sodium was responsible. Back in the day, observation techniques were not as high-tech as today. To confirm the findings, Campbell turned Chile’s powerful Very Large Telescope on the cluster, which was located 13,000 light-years away. The claims were true.
Additionally, Campbell’s team discovered that sodium killed stars quicker than those that contained less salt. The low-sodium stars followed a normal evolutionary path and, at the end, burned hydrogen and helium before shedding gas and dust. What remained turned into white dwarfs.
Their highly salted cousins never entered the shedding phase but died directly into white dwarfs. This was unexpected as all stars were thought to first lose mass in their final years. Though salt is definitely a factor, the exact reason why it removes an entire life phase is not entirely clear.
In 2018, scientists at the Planetary Science Institute proposed to salt the air like a cured ham. The reason? To cool Earth down. Humans’ dependence on fossil fuels is still dialing up the planet’s temperature. The idea is to release table salt (perhaps a salt mine’s worth) into the troposphere. Its strong reflective properties might mirror incoming heat back into space.
But this is geoengineering, a practice involving environmental manipulation to stave off climate change. This remains a patchwork craft where precision understanding of all the consequences cannot be predicted.
Salt may be harmless to humans and more reflective than other suggested dustings, but it contains chlorine. This ozone nibbler could worsen the condition of Earth’s protective shield against radiation. Salt might cool Earth but could wreck the chemistry of both the troposphere and stratosphere.
Researchers admit the move is a desperate one for a situation that needs something better. They liken salt seeding to the “application of morphine in a medical situation.”
Deep below Antarctica’s surface are pockets that contain ecosystems separate from the rest of the world. These subterranean lakes are super salty. In 2018, researchers found a pair of these saline lakes in Canada. For the moment, they cannot dip their toes or test tubes in the water. Both lakes are thought to be over 610 meters (2,000 ft) below the Devon Ice Cap.
What makes the pair so interesting is that they have been sealed away for millennia. Other subglacial lakes previously produced the samples that proved microbes had their own communities away from sunlight and the world.
The Canadian lakes are special. Calculations estimate that their salt content—up to five times that of the oceans—make these the most hypersaline bodies on Earth.
They also have a touch of space in them. Jupiter’s moon Europa has an icy crust over what is likely a saltwater sea, which is a requirement for life. If Canada’s own ice-locked lakes produce life, it might prove that similar ecosystems exist in salty oceans across the solar system.
Ceres is a dwarf planet in our solar system’s asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. For some time, something about Cere’s appearance has been a scientific mystery. Around 130 inexplicable bright spots dotted the surface of the dwarf planet.
In 2015, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft orbited the small world and beamed back to Earth a likely answer. When the incoming data was analyzed, it appeared that the shiny spots were comprised of hydrated magnesium sulfates. Footbath lovers know this compound as Epsom salt.
Most of the patches were found within impact craters, and water ice also seemed to play a role in their creation. Several craters produced a haze after sunrise, possibly from water vapor leaving the spots. Some spots also have the reflectivity of polar sheets, a strong indication that Ceres might have vast reservoirs of ice underneath the crust.
How these oddities came to be on Ceres in the first place is also unknown, but impacts likely exposed ice and salt beneath the crust.
3Worst Droughts In History
During 2017, researchers were drilling for samples in the Dead Sea when they found something horrifying—two droughts capable of bringing civilization to its knees should they repeat. The team had been scouting for salt deposits to look at past rainfall. The logic was sound. A dry spell would leave more deposits, while rainy years thinned them.
When the drill hit the depths that represented 10,000 and 120,000 years ago, respectively, salt showed up in a big way. Found around 305 meters (1,000 ft) below the seabed, they showed droughts unlike anything recorded before. Both times, the Middle East suffered dry weather that lasted millennia. At its worst, only 20 percent of normal rainfall was seen. Humans and Neanderthals existed during the first, and by the second, Neanderthals were gone.
Scientists are worried that a rebound may make millions suffer this time, and climate predictions show the region will turn arid. The salt layers proved that the deadliest droughts happened without human interference. Now, with man-made climate change, the much-needed freshwater could disappear again.
Earth was pretty much a choke zone until the first oxygen bloomed. Called the Great Oxidation Event, this change was made possible when bacteria learned photosynthesis and started releasing oxygen.
Exactly when this event happened was a mystery until 2018, when the world’s oldest salt was found. The crystallized rocks were drawn from a 2-kilometer-deep (1.2 mi) shaft in Russia.
The crystals, chemically identical to table salt, formed 2.3 billion years ago after an ancient ocean evaporated. The sample contained sulfate—something which forms in seawater when oxygen reacts with sulfur. Not only did it prove when the Oxidation Event happened, but the vast amount of sulfate showed that it spread at a rapid clip.
The massive rate at which oxygen was pumped into the atmosphere was surprising, but it settled another question. Did bacteria take millions of years to raise the 20 percent oxygen level in the atmosphere? The Russian salt showed that the process was not gradual. For some reason, the event was more like the burst from a fire hose.
1It Might Become A Controlled Substance
At the 2012 World Nutrition meeting in Rio, researchers proposed that salt be regulated by companies or governments. The population is overdosing on sodium, a leading cause of premature deaths. Not just a few thousand, either. Millions of people die of high blood pressure every year because of salt added to food.
A human needs 350 milligrams daily to stay alive. Meanwhile, an average American ingests 3,500 milligrams per day. The biggest culprit is sodium hidden from the consumer. A slice of store-bought bread already accounts for 250 milligrams of sodium. A can of vegetables contains around 1,000 milligrams. Double that in one fast-food meal.
Researchers are leaning toward taking the choice away from companies that add salt to improve taste in low-quality food and use salt water to sell meat at a “heavier” price. As salt causes thirst, beverage sellers have little incentive to support salt reduction. Faced with hidden sodium and industrial overuse, the individual cannot effectively reduce his intake. For this reason, the government regulation of salt may be the only option.
We talk about slavery almost as if it was something that only happened in the United States. Slavery is treated as a distinctly American legacy and American shame—but that couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth.
Nearly every country in the world participated in the slave trade, and a lot of them took in far more slaves than the United States. Of the 12.5 million African slaves sent to the New World, only 388,000—or about three percent—of them ended up in the US.
We’ve all heard about Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the Emancipation Proclamation, but that wasn’t the end of slavery around the world. Slaves were still battling for their freedom, and, outside their own countries, their stories have been almost completely ignored.
10Britain Spent Most Of Its Budget Paying Off Slaveowners
When the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833, their biggest concern was the slaveowners. A growing abolitionist movement in the empire had pushed them to do the humane thing and let their slaves go free, but they were still terrified about how all their slaveowners would react—so they paid them off.
The British government spent £20 million reimbursing slavers for the “loss of their slaves.” That was a huge amount of money—it was 40 percent of their treasury’s annual income, and the country had to go £15 million in debt to pay for it. They didn’t finish paying off that debt until 2015, meaning that, in a sense, British taxes were going toward paying off slaveowners for 182 years.
The slaves didn’t see a penny of that £20 million. They weren’t given any resources or land to compensate them for working without pay or any guidance on how to make a better life for themselves. And so, when slavery ended, most ended up staying on the same plantations they’d been at their whole lives, working for wages so low that life wasn’t much better than before.
9Canada Abolished Slavery To Save A Single Woman
The end of slavery in the British Empire didn’t change much in Canada. They’d already abolished slavery 40 years earlier, in 1793, all as a part of one man’s efforts to save a single woman named Chloe Cooley.
Chloe Cooley was an African slave whose owner intended to sell her in the US. While a crowd of people watched, he tied her up, threw her into a boat, and sailed her across Lake Erie. Cooley did everything she could to resist, screaming for her life and trying to escape, but it was all to no avail.
Two men in the crowd, though, reported what they’d seen to Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, and he made it his personal goal to save Cooley. He tried to bring her owner to court, but the case was thrown out.She was the owner’s property, and, by law, he could do anything he wanted to her.
So Simcoe changed the law. He campaigned to get slavery abolished in Canada and pulled it off in record time. Less than four months after Cooley was sold, slavery was illegal.
Simcoe, though, never managed to save Cooley. The new law only banned the purchase of new slaves—slaveowners were still allowed to keep the ones they had. No one knows for sure what happened to Cooley, but there’s every reason to believe she died in the United States, working on a plantation slave gang.
8Brazil Kept Slavery Alive Longer Than Any Country In The Americas
We don’t often talk about the Brazilian slave trade, but it was bigger than any other in North or South America. As we’ve said, only three percent of the African slaves went to the United States—but 32 percent (four million) of them went to Brazil.
Slavery stayed legal in Brazil for longer than any other country in the Americas, too. It was so strong that, after the US Civil War, Confederate slaveowners who were unwilling to give up owning people moved to Brazil to keep the slave trade alive.
In the end, though, the British Empire pressured them into giving them up. It wasn’t until Brazilians fought alongside their African slaves in the Paraguayan War that they started to see them as human beings.
In the end, the slaveowners came around to abolition before the government did. They started freeing their own slaves before the state forced them to do it. When slavery was finally abolished in 1888, most of the slaves had already been set free.
In Haiti, the slaves won their freedom by force. It was the oldest slave colony in America. There had been slaves there since Columbus first landed in 1492, and by 1789, there were nearly 500,000 slaves, outnumbering the white population by more than ten to one.
When the Haitian slaves heard about the French Revolution, it sparked an idea. From their point of view, it sounded like the white slaves of France had killed their masters and taken possession of the land. They wanted to throw a revolution of their own.
Haitian slaves started wearing red, white, and blue ribbons as tributes to the French Revolution and as a subtle sign that they were getting ready to launch one of their own. And, in October 1790, it started. At first, it was just 350 slaves fighting for their freedom in Saint Dominique, but it soon evolved into a full-on rebellion across the entire country.
It took 14 years for them to win their freedom. The French Army was called in, and the ragtag, revolting slaves had to take on one of the greatest military forces in the world. In the end, though, the French Army was wreaked with disease. They gave up, went home, and let the slave rebellion win.
The very concepts of skin color were abolished. Under the constitution, no matter the color of one’s skin, all Haitians were to “be known only by the generic appellation of Blacks.”
6The First Black President Of Mexico Abolished Slavery
It probably won’t come as much as a surprise that slavery in Mexico didn’t last much longer after its first black president.
His name was Vicente Ramon Guerrero Saldana (often shortened to Vicente Guerrero), and he was the son of an African Mexican and a Mestizo. To his Mexican comrades, though, his mixed heritage just made him black—in fact, his nickname was “El Negro.”
Guerrero entered office on April 1, 1829, and got rid of slavery before the year was over. Slavery in Mexico officially ended on September 16, 1829—much to the chagrin of the Americans living there.
Texas, at the time, was full of American slaveholders who weren’t too happy about Guerrero’s new law. The end of slavery in Mexico would eventually lead to Texas declaring independence and would even get Guerrero killed. A revolt rose up against him nearly immediately. Guerrero was dead before two years had passed.
But his law survived. Even though Guerrero died, slavery never came back to Mexico.
In the late 19th century, Zanzibar was the center of the global slave trade. Thousands of slaves passed through their slave market each year, and the British wanted to put an end to it.
They tried to do it peacefully. They tried to put economic pressure on Zanzibar to get them to stop the slave trade, but all Zanzibar would give them were a few platitudes and empty gestures. The slave trade was vital to their economy, and they weren’t going to give it up unless someone made them.
So, in 1896, a British fleet set itself up outside of the Sultan’s palace and just bombarded it senseless with everything they had. After 38 to 45 minutes of destruction, the Sultan surrendered, and slavery in Zanzibar came to an end.
It was the shortest war in history. Over 500 people died on the Zanzibar side. On the British side, only one person was wounded. The rest didn’t even stub a toe.
4It Took Two Wars To End The Barbary White Slave Trade
Africans weren’t the only people being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, hundreds of thousands of Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.
The Barbary pirates would raid the coasts of Europe and capture anyone they could get their hands on. Then they would drag them off to Algiers, where they would be sold as slaves.
The Ottoman Empire refused to stop until the United States and Europe forced them. The US had to go to war with the Barbary states twice (in 1801 and 1815) before they left them alone, while the British, Dutch, and French fought with Algiers off and on for nearly 100 years before the Ottoman Empire, in 1890, finally signed an agreement to stop taking white slaves.
3Cuba Ignored Spain’s Orders To Abolish Slavery For 75 Years
Officially, slavery was abolished in every Spanish colony in 1811, but Cuba didn’t exactly listen. The slave trade was too profitable there to stop. They deliberately ignored the Spanish order and kept on selling slaves for another 75 years.
It created problems. In 1812, when the slaves in Cuba realized they weren’t going free, a man named Jose Aponte led them in a revolt to try to get them the freedom they’d been denied. Even in the face of open revolt, though, Cuba kept the slave trade going. They killed Aponte and put his head on display to let every slave know what would happen to them if they questioned the Cuban slave trade.
The slaves didn’t get their freedom until after Cuba and Spain went to war. Cuba went to war with Spain in 1868 but had lost by 1878, and Spain rode the high of their victory to finally actually force Cuba to let their slaves go. Even then, though, the process was so gradual that the shackles didn’t come off until 1886, a whole lifetime after they’d been promised their freedom.
2Australian Slave Traders Drowned Slaves Rather Than Give Them Freedom
Technically, Australia was a nation of slaves to begin with. The convicts who first populated Australia were sent to work as unpaid slaves on a chain gang, and they were treated so horribly that one of the British officers who went to Australia said, “The slave traffic is merciful compared with what I have seen.”
In time, the white slaves of Australia were replaced with Aboriginal slaves, who were forced to work on sugar plantations. They were all supposed to be freed in 1833, when the British Empire abolished slavery, but the Australians ignored it. They relabeled their slaves “indentured servants” and kept using them for the better part of a century.
It took until 1901—68 years after slavery had been abolished—before the British Empire finally forced Australia to set their slaves free. Some of the slave traders, though, were so determined not to do it that they threw their slaves overboard, letting them drown rather than giving them their freedom.
1Mauritania Still Has Slavery
Not every country has abolished slavery. In Mauritania, it is estimated that 43,000 people are still living in slavery.
The lighter-skinned Berber people of Mauritania are the slaveowners, while the darker-skinned people called the “Black Moors” are the slaves. The Berbers have full control over the Black Moors’ lives, including the right to give their slaves away. In fact, it’s considered a tradition there to give a slave as a wedding gift.
Technically, slavery was legally abolished in Mauritania in 1981, but the slave trade still lives on to this day. The government started to crack down more after a 2012 report by the United Nations put them in the international spotlight, but according to the Global Slavery Index, it was little more than a show to appease the UN. They arrested their first slaveowner immediately around when the UN report came out and very publicly sentenced him to six months in jail—but they stopped pursuing cases when the world stopped paying attention.
To this day, Mauritania remains one of the last great strongholds of slaveryin the world.
… that today is the birthday of Dr. Pepper? Charles Alderton, American inventor of the Dr. Pepper soft drink, concocted the soda fountain syrup that later became known as Dr. Pepper. Trivia fans: His customers originally asked for the drink by asking Alderton to shoot them a “Waco
“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”