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July 13, 2008 Why am I getting this?
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Are you getting enough salt in your diet?

Dear Friend,

I just read a report online that flies in the face of what conventional medicine has been pushing on the public for years. New research suggests not eating enough salt could be WORSE for your heart than consuming too much of it.

Yawn. Excuse my lack of enthusiasm. After all, this is old news to me — and it should be to you as well. I've been telling you for years that salt is good for you.

The new study was published in the online Journal of General Internal Medicine, and while it doesn't actually come out and say that a low-salt diet is actually BAD for the heart, it does cite some intriguing stats showing that people who eat the least salt suffer from the highest rates of death as a result of heart disease. The one quarter of patients in the study who ate the least salt were – ready for this? – 80 PERCENT more likely to die from cardiac issues than the 25 percent in the study who consumed the MOST salt.

This should really be no surprise in the medical community. In spite of what you hear on TV and read in magazines, there's no agreement in the medical community that salt is the key factor in the development of such dangerous maladies as high blood pressure and hypertension.

Dr. Hillel W. Cohen, the author of the study, finally acknowledged the questionable link between salt intake and high blood pressure. "The main argument for reducing salt in the prevention of heart disease has been that there's a relationship between higher sodium and high blood pressure," he said. "But when one actually looks at the numbers, the average blood pressure difference associated with quite a bit of sodium intake is very modest."

The fact is, without salt, you'd die. It's an essential nutrient that your body can't manufacture on its own. It plays a critical role in regulating vital bodily function, and it's a key element in the fluids that transport life-giving oxygen throughout the body. Salt maintains the body's fluid balance. What's more, the body automatically disposes of excess salt in your system. So the oft-heard claim that you can have "too much" salt in your diet? Well that's just not physically possible.

Like all doctors making unpopular claims that fly in the face of "conventional" medical thought, Cohen hedged his bets. (So unlike me, right?) He said, "No one should run out and buy a salt shaker to improve their cardiovascular health, but we think it's reasonable to say that different people have different needs."

Maybe so. But the fact remains that salt is an essential need for all people. I'm happy that Cohen's study has helped to clarify the country's misconceptions about it.

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Big Pharma cashes in on gamblers

You name it, and Big Pharma has a drug for it. Most recently, they've created drugs for the addiction-turned-diseases of alcoholism and smoking. Now they've got one for "pathological gamblers," too. What's next? A drug for chronic nail-biters? Or what about a drug for sex addicts? (Who would want to take that?)

A new study of pathological gamblers found that the drug naltrexone – a prescription drug that's usually used to treat alcoholism and drug dependence – actually calmed the urge to gamble and helped to diminish gambling-related behaviors. Almost 40 percent of the pathological gamblers who took naltrexone were able to stop gambling for a whole month, compared to only 10 percent of the patients on the placebo.

I'm fascinated to see that gambling can be treated with a drug, especially since it's an addiction that lacks the physical dependencies inherent in alcohol and drug addictions. But when you think about it, drugs used to treat addictions work out for the benefit of everyone involved.

For the pharmaceutical companies, it offers the opportunity to expand their market beyond treating diseases to the treatment of what most people would consider as a bad habit. And for the people taking the drugs, they get to blame their vice (because that is, after all, what it is) on a medical problem. It's not their fault. After all, there's a drug for it – it must be a disease.

Does no one in this country take responsibility for their actions any more?

It still remains to be seen if this latest use for naltrxone will thin the ranks at Gamblers Anonymous meetings throughout the country. But I'm sure that the folks running the Vegas casinos aren't sweating just yet.

Salty as ever,

William Campbell Douglass II, M.D.

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