Feeling a need for salt? Get it with food, not tablets


April 30, 1991|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,United Feature Syndicate

Consistently warm weather is on its way. Those of you who work hard and sweat profusely under the sun are going to lose salt from your bodies. As a result, some of you may be tempted to take salt tablets in order to put back what your body is missing. Well, don't do it -- unless your physician recommends it.

More than 30 years ago, people active in hot weather were given salt tablets. But, rarely do doctors recommend that approach to salt replacement today.

Salt tablets can irritate your stomach linings and make you vomit. They can also thicken your blood, increasing your chance of developing clots that block circulation.

Sweat contains a great deal of salt, so it makes sense that when you sweat quite a bit, you lose salt. And, if you lose too much salt, your muscles can begin to hurt and cramp. You may feel nauseous, your head could hurt and you might even pass out.

But, when your body is low in salt, your sweat glands are able to produce sweat low in salt -- so you really don't lose all that much.

Nevertheless, replacing what salt you do lose is easy; most foods are loaded with salt. The average American needs only about 200 milligrams of salt per day yet takes in more than 3,000 milligrams. Manufacturers know salt is an excellent preservative, so they add it to foods to keep them fresh. Canned peas contain 200 times as much salt as fresh peas while frozen peas contain 10 times as much as fresh peas. Besides, salt makes food taste good.

When you are low in salt, salty foods taste even better. Thus, you naturally seek out salty foods, again helping you replenish your salt supply without taking salt tablets.

If you become weak and tired from exercising in hot weather, check with your doctor to see if your body lacks salt. If so, replenish your salt supply with food, not salt tablets.


Several female athletes have inquired as to how they can avoid menstruating during competition.

First, women should check with their doctors to see if they can use birth control pills safely to manipulate their periods. If so, they can take low-dose birth control pills for several months, halting 10 days prior to an athletic event. They will menstruate within three days and stop bleeding before competition.

There are at least two studies describing decreased endurance in female athletes taking birth control pills. However, a vast majority of sports gynecologists and athletes feel that, in these studies, psychological factors impaired performance -- not the birth control pills. If an athlete feels the pills will impair performance, she will not perform as well. Besides, there is no evidence that the pills interfere with training.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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