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The Only Extra Mineral Exercisers Need Is Salt

People who are serious exercisers can be harmed by the broad recommendations for all Americans to restrict salt intake. It is true that excess salt intake can cause high blood pressure, but heavy exercise usually helps to protect people from salt causing high blood pressure. The minimum salt requirement is 1,500 mg (1 teaspoon) of sodium a day. The average North American is told not to exceed 2,300 mg per day, but he ingests too much salt, between 3,100 and 4,700 mg of sodium per day.

FITNESS DOES NOT REDUCE SALT LOSS: This month a study from Spain shows that being fit does not reduce the concentration of salt in sweat (European Journal of Applied Physiology, November 2011). A person who exercises in the heat can lose far more than 4000 mg of salt. So in spite of the fact that most serious exercisers get a lot of salt from the massive amounts of foods that they eat, they can still become salt deficient.

SYMPTOMS OF SALT DEFICIENCY: If you are a serious exerciser and you suddenly are not recovering from your workouts as fast as you usually do, a common cause is loss of salt. Symptoms of salt deficiency include muscle weakness, soreness and cramps, loss of strength and tiredness. Get a blood test for sodium on the day after a hard workout. If your blood sodium is below 132 mmol/L, you need more salt.

SALT IS NECESSARY FOR SERIOUS EXERCISERS: In 1942 the US government commissioned James Gamble of Harvard Medical School to set mineral requirements for soldiers fighting in the Pacific. He showed that sodium (table salt) is the only mineral that needed to be replaced. Potassium, magnesium, calcium and the trace minerals were not significant. To this day, nobody has improved on his data and recommendations.

HOW SALT DEFICIENCY HAMPERS PERFORMANCE: Not taking in salt when you exercise for more than two hours can prevent you from retaining the water that you drink. It can also block thirst, so you may not know that you are dehydrated. Thirst is a late sign of dehydration. You lose water during exercise primarily through sweating, and sweat contains a far lower concentration of salt than blood. So during exercise, you lose far more water than salt, causing the concentration of salt in the blood to rise. You will not feel thirsty until the concentration of salt in the blood rises high enough to trip off thirst osmoreceptors in your brain, and it takes a loss of two to four pints of fluid to do that.

SALT BEFORE COMPETITION: Taking salt just before competition improves performance (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, January 2007; Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, January 2007). Athletes who took extra salt had larger blood volume and greater endurance. Salt makes you thirsty earlier so you drink more, and salt in your body holds water so you have more water available to meet your needs.

ENDURANCE EVENTS LASTING LONGER THAN FOUR HOURS: You can keep yourself fresh during extended exercise by eating foods with salt and drinking frequently, before you feel hungry or thirsty. Once you are weakened by loss of fluid or salt, it becomes very difficult to regain your strength. Commercial sports drinks help increase endurance with their caffeine, sugar, salt, and to a lesser degree, protein content. It is unlikely that any other component improves performance (The Physician and Sportsmedicine, April 2010).

MOST EXERCISERS DO NOT SUFFER FROM SALT DEFICIENCY: The North American diet contains up to 10 times your minimal salt requirements. Salt is added to almost all prepared foods, so if you doubled or tripled your salt losses through sweating, you would still not be deficient because you are already taking in far more salt than you need.

EXERCISE CAN PREVENT RISE IN BLOOD PRESSURE FROM SALT: People who exercise are far less likely to suffer high blood pressure from eating food with excess salt intake (presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, March 2011). High blood pressure increases risk for heart attacks, strokes, and kidney damage. Many middle-aged people who start an exercise program lose their tendency to develop high blood pressure when they take in extra salt (Journal of Human Hypertension, May 2006).

If you are concerned about your blood pressure, you can buy an inexpensive wrist cuff and check your systolic blood pressure at bedtime. If it is below 120, you probably do not need to restrict salt.

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Why You Should Exercise Every Day

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts show that, after just one day of not exercising, your body loses some of its ability to respond to insulin (Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental, July 2011). Inability to respond to insulin is the cause of most cases of diabetes that has the potential to cause premature death in one of every three North Americans.

HOW SUGAR DAMAGES CELLS: After you eat, blood sugar levels rise. If they rise too high, sugar sticks to outer cell membranes to destroy those cells. That's why diabetics suffer from damage to every cell in their bodies, leading to blindness, deafness, dementia, heart attacks, strokes, impotence, and damage to nerves, kidneys or liver. To keep blood sugar levels from rising too high, your pancreas releases insulin which drives sugar from the bloodstream into cells. Exercising every day helps to keep sugar levels from rising too high.

HOW CONTRACTING MUSCLES CAN PREVENT DIABETES: Resting muscles cannot draw sugar from the bloodstream without receiving large amounts of insulin. However, contracting muscles can remove sugar from the bloodstream without using insulin. This effect is maximal during exercise and is gone completely after 17 hours.

ONE MISSED DAY OF EXERCISE: In the study from the University of Massachusetts, after just one day of sitting, people had higher blood sugar levels after a meal, decreased ability to respond to insulin, and higher insulin levels. The more food they ate on the day of not exercising, the higher their blood sugar levels, and the less their bodies responded to insulin. This study shows that just one day of not exercising increases a person's risk for the side effects of diabetes.

HOW TO EXERCISE EVERY DAY: Many people become injured when they try to exercise every day. The most likely cause is that they do not understand the hard-easy principle that every knowledgeable exerciser should learn. You take a more intense workout on one day. The next day, you can expect to feel sore. That is when you must put very little pressure on your muscles. That means to run, dance, skate, cycle very slowly or lift lightly until the soreness diminishes. Only then should you move faster and lift heavier. You can tell that you are headed for an injury if you feel soreness that is not symmetrical and it worsens with exercise. Stop because continuing discomfort with exercise is often a sign of impending injury.

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Food Industry Influence on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines

Walter C. Willett, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines are influenced by the food industry and should be corrected (NEJM, October 27, 2011).

He feels that the guidelines for healthful eating should emphasize foods, not individual nutrients, and that recommending three daily servings of dairy products is incorrect because of lack of evidence that dairy intake protects against bone fractures, and that it may be linked to prostate and ovarian cancers.

He recommends:
1) Eating lots of vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains, and nuts
2) Replacing red meat and poultry with fish
3) restricting refined carbohydrates:
• foods made from flour (bakery products and pastas),
• all added sugars,
• all sugar sweetened beverages
4) restricting solid fats:
• red meat,
• cheese,
• butter

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Impotence in Middle-Aged Men Usually Caused by Metabolic Syndrome

Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Orlando, Florida (October 17, 2011}, shows that testosterone was no more effective than a placebo as a treatment for impotence. The men were all over 60 and had low blood levels of testosterone. Testosterone often fails to treat impotence, even in men who have low blood levels of that hormone.

The vast majority of men over 60 cannot sustain an erection more often than every five days. One in three North American men over 60 have metabolic syndrome, a prelude to diabetes. Most men with metabolic syndrome have severe arteriosclerotic damage to their arteries that blocks blood flow to the penis to cause impotence, and to their hearts to put them at increased risk for heart attacks. Most have low testosterone, because diabetes directly damages the testicles to prevent them from making testosterone. So both the low testosterone and the impotence can be caused by being diabetic.

Every North American man who suffers from impotence should be tested for the major causes of blood vessel damage:
• DIABETES (HBA1C, blood sugar level two hours after a heavy meal);
• ARTERIOSCLEROSIS (Lipid profile, Lp(a), homocysteine, cholesterol particle size, CRP).

Many impotent males can regain their potency by following lifestyle changes that protect their arteries:
• eat large amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts;
• lose excess weight and fat;
• avoid red meat, processed meats, fried foods, sugared drinks and sugar-added foods;
• exercise and grow muscles; and
• get blood levels of vitamin D3 above 75 nmol/L .

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Recipe of the Week: Butternut Squash-Fruit Casserole You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

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October 30th, 2011
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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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