A high salt diet inhibits obesity and delays puberty in the female rat

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Processed foods are considered major contributors to the worldwide obesity epidemic. In addition to high sugar and fat contents, processed foods contain large amounts of salt. Owing to the correlations with rising adiposity, salt has recently been proposed to be obesogenic. This study investigated three hypotheses: (i) high salt contributes to weight gain and adiposity in juvenile female rats, (ii) puberty onset would be altered because salt is known to affect neuronal systems involved in activating the reproductive system, and (iii) enhanced adiposity will act synergistically with salt to drive early puberty onset.


Female weanling rats (post-natal day 21, n = 105) were fed a low fat/low salt diet, low fat/high salt diet, high fat/low salt diet or a high salt/high fat diet for 24 days. Metabolic measures, including weight gain, food intake, fecal output, activity and temperature were recorded in subsets of animals.


Body weight, retroperitoneal and perirenal fat pad weight, and adipocyte size were all lower in animals fed high fat/high salt compared with animals fed high fat alone. Leptin levels were reduced in high fat/high salt fed animals compared with high fat/low salt-fed animals. Daily calorie intake was higher initially but declined with adjusted food intake and was not different among groups after 5 days. Osmolality and corticosterone were not different among groups. Fecal analysis showed excess fat excretion and a decreased digestive efficiency in animals fed high fat/low salt but not in animals fed high fat/high salt. Although respiratory exchange ratio was reduced by high dietary fat or salt, aerobic-resting metabolic rate was not affected by the diet. High salt delayed puberty onset, regardless of dietary fat content.


Salt delays puberty and prevents the obesogenic effect of a high fat diet. The reduced weight gain evident in high salt-fed animals is not due to differences in food intake or digestive efficiency.

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