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Salt Addiction and History Topics of UW President’s Speaker Talk Thursday

March 21, 2014
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UW neuroscientist Bill Flynn will discuss “The Biological Hunger for Salt and The Wars that Salt Has Caused,” Thursday, March 27, at 4:10 p.m. in the University of Wyoming College of Arts and Sciences auditorium. (UW Photo)

“The Biological Hunger for Salt and the Wars that Salt Has Caused” will be the subject of Professor Francis “Bill” Flynn’s Presidential Speaker Series talk Thursday, March 27, at 4:10 p.m. in the University of Wyoming College of Arts and Sciences auditorium.

While salt is an essential element of life, it also has played a role in human history as a currency, preservative and even a feature of ceremonial offerings, says Flynn, a professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology and  UW Neuroscience Center director.

As far back as 4,000 B.C., wars have been fought over access to salt, and its lack has led to the loss of wars. 

“Today, the craving for salt has led to a new war -- that is, whether high levels of salt consumption are  good or bad for you and your cardiovascular health,” he says. 

Some states seek to regulate the amount of salt in foods because of its association with cardiovascular disease. Others argue that the data are lacking and that there are no adverse effects, he says. Drawing upon his neuroscience research, Flynn will answer why so many people crave salt, almost like an addiction.

“I will discuss factors that lead to our love of salt, the relationships between salt, drug craving and brain reward systems, and then turn to the ‘war on salt’ and show how early life exposure to excess salt affects the animal’s taste preferences and cardiovascular health as an adult,” Flynn says.

UW researchers have found that high salt causes the release of a particular chemical in the brain, a neurotransmitter that directly affects DNA to cause long-term changes in how the brain works.  Flynn says this finding has broad implications beyond that of the consequences of salt, because many commonly used drugs for depression, anxiety, chronic pain and other disorders also may exert their pharmacological actions through this previously unsuspected cellular pathway.  

The President's Speaker Series encourages and honors individual faculty members who have been especially successful in balancing the research, educational and service goals of the university. The series calls attention to some of the individuals who have made important, well-rounded contributions to the university's standing.

A committee composed of the speaker series' previous honorees nominates candidates for the series. Selection criteria include a long-term national recognition for research or creative activity and the ability to communicate with all members of the university community.

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