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People’s Pharmacy

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Did low-sodium diet trigger leg cramps?

By Joe & Terry Graedon
Joe and Terry Graedon
Joe and Terry Graedon are authors of The People's Pharmacy book and host an award-winning health talk show on public radio.

Q. I happened across a study showing that low-sodium diets don’t offer benefits to people who aren’t otherwise at risk for heart disease. I realized that I’ve been religiously following a low-sodium diet for years, since it was advised for the general population. I’ve completely lost my taste for salt and avoid it whenever possible, but I am not at risk for heart disease.

I wondered what would happen if I changed. So just for the heck of it, I began adding some sea salt to my food. (Sea salt tastes really good.)

After a while, I noticed something odd. Whereas I had suffered screamingly painful leg cramps at night for years (as long as I had been avoiding salt), they disappeared. Coincidence? I think not.

Sodium has long been vilified by public health officials. An eight-year study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (May 4, 2011) showed, however, that people consuming the least sodium in their diets had the highest mortality.

Another study found that low intake of sodium was linked to an increase in stress hormones (adrenaline, renin and aldosterone), which might have a negative impact on cardiovascular health (American Journal of Hypertension, January 2012).

Those who are salt-sensitive or have heart disease may indeed benefit from a low-salt diet. Someone like you, though, may discover that too little sodium can sometimes have negative consequences. Many readers report that pickle juice or yellow mustard, both high in sodium, can help relieve muscle cramps.

Doctors missed diagnosis

Q. I was misdiagnosed for five years, and it nearly cost me my life. I was eventually told I had Parkinson’s disease and was referred to a neurologist.

During the neurological exam, I was asked if I had ever had a thyroid test. A simple blood test that I had never been given would have shown that I suffered with a hyperactive thyroid. It was out of control, and all my internal organs were seriously affected.

The endocrinologist called in consultants, and all agreed it was a miracle I was still alive. They had never seen a case as severe as mine. My heart was racing at 180 beats a minute, and no one had detected it.

My all-over shaking was visible. I could not sign my name, and they had a hard time doing scans because I had difficulty keeping still. I was terrified at the diagnosis, but I learned to take control of my health by asking lots of questions and looking things up.

An overactive thyroid gland is a serious health threat. It is shocking that it took five years to diagnose your condition, which responds to medication, radioactive iodine or surgery.

Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to weakened bones and heart disease.

Potassium-rich foods

Q. What food do I need to eat for deficiency of potassium?

Here is a list of potassium-rich foods: artichokes, apricots, asparagus, avocado, bananas, beets, bell peppers, blackberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, chard, mushrooms, nectarines, oranges, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.

Email Joe and Teresa Graedon at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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