One of three powerful electrolytes required by the body (the other two being sodium and potassium), chloride performs a number of functions within the body. It makes up about 0.15 % of our body weight. Chloride is a major component of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) and it stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid.1 As individuals age, they secrete less hydrochloric acid which diminishes one's ability to properly digest foods and assimilate important nutrients.1,2
Chloride is an anion that is usually consumed as sodium chloride (NaCl) or as common table salt.2
The highest concentrations of chloride can be found in cerebrospinal fluid and gastric and pancreatic juices.
Chloride is readily absorbed through the intestinal tract and excesses are excreted in the urine, feces and perspiration.2
Chloride is an enzyme activator and is also involved in maintaining acid-base and water balance. It allows fluids to pass in and out of cell membranes until the concentration of dissolved particles is equal on both sides.2
Chloride adjusts metabolic alkalosis that is a result of disease or chronic use of diuretic agents.
It stimulates the liver to act as a filter to separate waste and then eliminate them from the body.2
Chloride and the other electrolytes work with calcium and magnesium in maintaining nerve transmission and normal muscle contraction and relaxation.
Chloride, as a member in the chloride-bicarbonate shift, moves in and out of red blood cells and blood plasma. This allows the plasma transport of tissue carbon dioxide as bicarbonate to the lungs for excretion.2
No Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) has been established for chloride.
Signs of Deficiency
Because chloride is an electrolyte, a deficiency would result in an imbalance in the normal acid-base balance, which in extreme cases could be characterised by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and perspiration. It is important to note that deficiencies of chloride are very rare except in certain instances where an individual is experiencing chronic vomiting, diarrhoea or excessive perspiration. Other symptoms include hair and tooth loss and impaired digestion.2
Infants deficient in chloride can develop loss of appetite, lethargy, failure to thrive and muscle weakness.3
Signs of Toxicity
Only known cause of chloride toxicity is water-deficiency dehydration. Excessive intake, however, of sodium chloride (processed salt) can elevate blood pressure in individuals sensitive to salt.2,3
According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, chloride "is essential in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance and is a necessary component of gastric juice. It occurs in plasma in concentrations of 96 to 106 mEq/liter*, and in a more concentrated form in cerebrospinal fluid and gastrointestinal secretions."4 According to Dunne, chloride will stimulate the liver to act as a filter, removing harmful waste products.
In addition, "it aids in keeping joints and tendons in youthful shape, and it helps to distribute hormones."2 Chloride has also been used in clinical and therapeutic applications to treat dehydration as a result of diarrhoea, vomiting or profuse sweating.2,4
*1mEq of chloride is equivalent to 35.5 milligrams (mg).
1 Schauss, A. Minerals and human health: the rationale for optimal and balanced trace element levels. Life Sciences Press, 1995: pp 9.
2 Dunne, L.J. Nutrition Almanac, 3rd ed. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 1990: pp.69-70.
3 Neumann, C. Chloride. American Society for Nutritional Sciences. http://www.nutrition.org/nutinfo.