Salt craving most often a learned yearning


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 43-year-old female. Ever since I was 5 years old, I have eaten a lot of salt. I never had a sweet tooth. I had my pituitary gland checked. I thought I might have an iodine deficiency. The gland was OK. I am an avid exerciser, lifting weights five times a week and running six miles, five times a week. Do you have information on iodine deficiency or people who need more salt? — P.A.

ANSWER: Salt craving is not a rarity. Most salt cravers either are born with an innate craving for it or become devotees of salt because the American diet is so full of it. Medical conditions for which salt craving is a sign include adrenal gland malfunction, a severely restricted salt diet and sometimes a result of diuretic (water pill) use.

The level of physical activity you perform makes it unlikely that you suffer from any medical condition. You can learn to make do with less salt by slowly decreasing the amount you eat. In a month or two, you’ll wonder how you ever hungered for salty foods. We’re supposed to limit our salt intake to a teaspoon a day — 2,300 mg of sodium. We get most of our salt from commercially prepared foods, not from using the salt shaker. Substituting pepper, lemon juice, vinegar and herbs curbs a salt desire. The Yanomamo people of the Amazon are in good health and eat only 200 mg of sodium a day.

The body uses iodine mostly in the production of thyroid hormone. A deficiency in iodine can lead to goiter (thyroid enlargement), hypothyroidism and many grave problems for a developing fetus. In the early part of the 20th century, iodine deficiency was a problem in areas of Canada and the United States. Adding iodine to salt helped solve iodine deficiency.

Have you made salt craving an indication of iodine deficiency? It isn’t.

The booklet on thyroid problems explains that gland and both an under-and overworking gland. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 401, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 43 and a female. During a routine physical exam two years ago, it was discovered that I have microscopic blood in my urine. I had two CT scans done and a test where they filled my bladder with water and looked inside. Everything came out fine, except for a couple of small cysts in my kidney.

After two years I still have the condition, but it hasn’t worsened. How serious is this? Could the kidney cysts cause the blood? Could something in my diet be the cause? What can I do to get rid of it? Will it ever go away on its own? — C.

ANSWER: Urine should have only a few red blood cells in it when examined with a microscope. When it has more, the most important issue is eliminating the possibility of cancer. Cancer isn’t the most common cause of microscopic urinary blood, but it is the most deadly cause. You have had two scans of your urinary tract. Your bladder has been inspected with a scope. You do not have cancer.

Other causes include kidney stones, kidney inflammation (glomerulonephritis), urinary tract infections, TB, exercise and mild trauma. Your doctor has considered all those things and hasn’t found them. In only about 30 percent of patients with microscopic urine blood is a cause found. When a cause cannot be found, the course of action is to follow these people for a length of time to make sure no illness is brewing.

Simple cysts of the kidney usually don’t cause blood in the urine. A diet change won’t help you. The condition can resolve on its own. You can do nothing to rid yourself of this. It most likely is not serious.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When someone refers to “hair of the dog,” what do they mean? — P.D.

ANSWER: At one time, the belief was that hair from a dog that bit you prevented infection when it was put on the dog bite. Now it means drinking alcohol to cure a hangover the morning after a night of excess drinking. It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.

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. Readers may also order health newsletters from