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Should You Restrict Salt?

In February 2005 the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, sued the federal government for failure to act on the evidence that salt kills 150,000 Americans each year. The average American consumes 4,000 milligrams a day. Government spokesmen recommend salt levels below 2,300 milligrams (1 teaspoon) a day. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg a day.

Excess salt intake raises blood pressure in some people by expanding blood volume. However, before you go out and try to avoid all salt, realize that your body needs some salt and severe salt restriction can be harmful. Severe salt restriction causes high blood pressure by causing the adrenal glands to release large amounts of aldosterone and the kidneys to release renin. Both hormones constrict arteries to cause high blood pressure. People on salt-wasting diuretics should also not try to restrict salt because they would then be at high risk for salt deficiency. Athletes have to be very cautions about salt restriction. Since sweat contains huge amounts of salt, athletes who restrict salt are in danger of developing fatigue, muscle damage and cramps caused by low salt levels.

If you have high blood pressure and are not on diuretics that drain salt from your body, it is reasonable to restrict salt. If you are a regular exerciser and feel tired or become injured, have your doctor draw blood levels of salt. You may find that you need to increase your intake of salt, particularly during exercise in warm weather. If you do not have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or other risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, there is little evidence that you will benefit from severe salt restriction. However, future research may change this recommendation. Processed foods and fast-food restaurant fare contribute almost 80 percent of the salt to the American diet, and a healthful diet is low in these foods.


Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is rope jumping a good exercise for fitness?

The fitness benefit from any exercise depends on how fast you move, whether it’s jumping, running, cycling or any other activity. Jumping rope has to be a vigorous sport, because you must spin the rope at least 80 times a minute to keep it from tangling. Most people use more energy when they jump rope than when they run. Jumping 80 times a minute uses the same amount of energy as running a mile in less than 8 minutes, a fairly rapid clip for most people. If you enjoy rope jumping, do it at a pace that is comfortable to you and stop when you feel discomfort.

To use rope-jumping for fitness, you need to be skilled enough to jump continuously for twenty to thirty minutes, and jumping that long and fast requires that you be in good shape. All you need is a ten-foot rope. The ends of the rope should barely reach your armpits when you stand on the middle of it. You don’t need special shoes, but sandals or loose shoes are likely to cause tripping. Start out by spinning the rope forward so you can see it as it passes. Bend your knees to absorb the shock of landing and protect the force of your feet striking the ground. To keep yourself from falling, bend slightly forward at the waist. Start out gradually and work up to thirty minutes three times a week.


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Dear Dr. Mirkin: What can I do to keep from losing brain power as I get older?

If you feel you are losing your ability to reason or think clearly, or if you suffer mood disorders such as depression, ask your doctor to do blood tests for homocysteine, folic acid, pyridoxine and vitamin B12. If these tests are normal, you should get tests for thyroid function, cholesterol and other causes of arterial damage. People with high levels of homocysteine levels or low levels of B12, folic acid or pyridoxine levels should eat plenty of whole grains and leafy green vegetables for folic acid and pyridoxine, and 1000 micrograms of B12 in a pill each day.

You can suffer from B12 deficiency even if your blood levels are normal. When you body lacks B12, your red blood cells do not mature properly and are much larger than normal, and homocysteine accumulates in your bloodstream, damaging your arteries and brain cells. Also be sure that your doctor checks for diabetes, which can damage blood vessels that supply the brain, heart and other organs. Diabetics may suffer loss of memory long before they are diagnosed as having diabetes. While we await further studies, protect your memory with a lifestyle that will help you avoid diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Control your weight, eat a wide variety of plants, limit refined carbohydrates and get plenty of exercise.


Recipe of the Week:

Shellfish Creole

Recipe List

June 26th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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