Salt’S Notoriety Is Well-Deserved

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you please provide the pros and cons of using salt in the diet? Why is water retention considered so bad? I am an 81-year-old man with stents in five heart arteries and one in the left carotid artery. My blood pressure is controlled with one medicine. — E.W.

ANSWER: What makes salt (sodium, sodium chloride) a danger to health is its tendency to raise blood pressure. We need only 500 mg of salt a day, yet we take in more than five times that amount. Salt’s contribution to the elevation of blood pressure is something that people can alter without resorting to medicines. Salt does contribute to fluid retention. That extra fluid finds its way into the circulation, and blood pressure rises. That’s the condensed version of the salt story. High blood pressure promotes heart attacks and strokes.

The booklet on high blood pressure explains why it is so important to lower elevated pressure and how to go about doing that. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 104W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Dairy products are a problem for me. For breakfast, 1 percent milk is fine and yogurt isn’t troublesome. Other dairy foods bother me. I am 61 and more intolerant of dairy foods now than when I was younger. Why? — Anon.

ANSWER: Lactase is an enzyme found in the small intestine. It digests lactose, milk sugar. Infants of all animal species are born with a good supply of the lactase enzyme. They lose their supply of lactase at the time they are weaned from their mother’s milk. Most humans hold onto an adequate supply of lactase into adult life.

Some, however, have so little that they find dairy products impossible to digest. Dairy products bloat these people, give them stomach cramps and can bring on diarrhea. That’s lactase deficiency or lactose intolerance. Both terms denote the same problem. The lactase deficiency is an ethnic trait. Blacks, Asian-Americans and Native Americans have less lactase in adulthood than do whites. Age causes the lactase supply to dwindle. That’s the reason you have more trouble at age 61 than you did years ago.

Cheeses and yogurt are exceptions to the rule. Many lactase-deficient people tolerate them well.

You can overcome the lactase deficiency problem by avoiding dairy products, by taking the lactase enzyme in pill form before eating dairy products or by using dairy products that have been pretreated with the enzyme.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son is trying to lose weight. He takes acai berry tablets. Are they harmful? So many diet pills are no good. — V.C.

ANSWER: The acai (ah-SAH-ee) berry, the latest nutritional rage, comes from Brazil. As far as I know, it causes no harm. Claims made for it seem somewhat excessive — weight loss, wrinkle remover and cleanser of body “toxins.” I have to wonder when so many wonderful things happen from taking one product. Let me know if your son loses weight.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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