Have a salt deficiency? No sweat

FITNESS CLINIC

February 23, 1993|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer/United Feature Syndicate

Sports medicine doctors used to recommend that athletes take salt tablets because they thought athletes would sweat so much they would develop a salt deficiency and pass out or even die. Today, doctors don't routinely recommend salt tablets.

In the early 1960s, there was a very good distance runner named Tom Osler. He was a mediocre runner in the winter but won several national championships in races in hot weather. He attributed his extraordinary ability to race well in the heat to severely restricting salt in his diet.

Following Osler's lead, many top runners went on low-salt diets. Subsequent studies have shown severe salt restriction does not enhance an athlete's ability to compete in the heat. But Tom Osler's personal experiment showed that the majority of athletes have sweat glands and kidneys so efficient in retaining salt during times of deprivation they do not need to take in extra salt.

At rest, you need just 200 milligrams of salt per day. With heavy exercise, you may need as much as 3,000 milligrams per day.

But you don't need to take salt tablets -- you'll get all the salt you need in your normal diet. Even if you avoid adding salt to your food, cook without adding salt and avoid eating anything that tastes salty, you would still take in 3,000 milligrams of salt per day.

Salt is everywhere: baked goods, canned foods, soups and so on.

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Q: Arthritis interferes with my tennis game. Can antibiotics help?

A: Over the last few years, doctors have learned that antibiotics can be used to treat arthritis caused by some infectious diseases, such as chlamydia and Lyme disease, and several recent studies show that

some antibiotics, such as tetracycline, may help prevent the joint destruction caused by arthritis.

Researchers at Long Island Jewish Medical Center showed tetracycline reduces joint damage caused by arthritis. They also found tetracycline lowered joint fluid levels of collagenase, a chemical that damages joints. In another study, researchers at Indiana University showed doxcycline, a derivative of tetracycline, prevents joint damage in dogs.

However, these discoveries do not mean all arthritis can be treated with antibiotics. The new data mean that some antibiotics may help prevent the joint destruction caused by arthritis, especially if the arthritis develops after a person is bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease or contracts chlamydia.

Q: My wife and I are of normal height, but our son is very short for his age. Should we be concerned? Would growth hormones help?

A: Short children have more social problems in school. When they grow up, they may earn less money. Studies have shown that if two people with the same qualifications apply for the same job, the taller one usually gets the job.

Short stature can be caused by many different conditions, such as short parents or a genetic or hormonal defect. In the vast majority of cases, doctors find no obvious reason why some children are short.

zTC When no cause is found and a short child also has delayed sexual development, doctors may diagnose constitutional delay of growth and puberty, or CDGP. These children look much younger than their age. A 14-year-old may look like a 10-year-old. They also have very weak bones and are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Conventional treatment is to give them injections of human growth hormone, which can cost up to $30,000 a year.

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

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