DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Sodium, sodium, sodium! Medical people continually tell us to cut down on it. How much is too much? Many packaged meals contain 10 percent to 40 percent. What does that percentage mean? What are the limits you suggest? – S.W.

Most people use too much sodium (salt, sodium chloride). The upper limit on sodium isn’t my suggestion. It comes from a panel of experts, and often different panels come up with different limits. One group sets the upper daily limit at 2,400 mg of sodium. Another would like people to use less, somewhere in the range of 1,200 mg to 1,500 mg.

The 2,400 mg amount is equal to one teaspoon of salt. That doesn’t mean you’re allowed to fill up a teaspoon with salt and use that whole teaspoon on food throughout the day. It indicates total sodium intake. People get 77 percent of their total daily sodium from processed and restaurant foods, things like commercial soups, frozen foods and luncheon meats. Another 12 percent comes from the sodium found naturally in foods. Six percent comes from salt sprinkled at the table, and 5 percent from salt added during cooking. You can cut 11 percent of your sodium intake by eliminating the last two sources. For salt added during the processing of foods, you have to read labels.

The percentage of sodium listed on labels indicates the percent of the recommended daily sodium intake found in a serving of that food.

The booklet on sodium and potassium discusses these minerals in detail. To obtain a copy, write to: Dr. Donohue, No. 202, 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: You have mentioned celiac disease more than once. You omit oats as one of the grains to avoid. I know for sure that oats throw me into trouble. You should clarify this. – P.N.

Celiac disease is a digestive illness where the digestive tract is thrown for a loop by gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The symptoms are diarrhea, weight loss and bulky, foul-smelling stools. Sometimes people with celiac disease present with anemia or osteoporosis without any digestive-tract symptoms. These illnesses come on because celiac disease interrupts the absorption of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients.

Oats do not contain gluten. However, they can be contaminated with gluten because they are sometimes refined with the same machinery used to refine those other grains. Many celiac patients tolerate oats well. If they don’t, they should avoid oats along with the other grains.

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

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What can you tell me about an illness called Paget’s in the brain? A dear friend of mine was told she had it after she had a brain scan. I would like to know what to look for so I can help her without making it obvious and upsetting her. Will this kill her soon? – Anon.

I have to believe that your friend has Paget’s disease of the skull. Paget’s is a bone disease, and the bones most often affected are the pelvic bones, the backbones, the skull, the thigh bone and the lower leg bone. This illness affects 3 percent of those older than 40. It comes about from an acceleration of the normal daily breakdown and buildup of bones. The breakdown phase suddenly speeds up. That throws the buildup phase into high gear, and the new bone that results is misshapen and fragile. Quite often, the process occurs only in a limited section of one bone. When that’s the case, the illness doesn’t present a health threat.

Paget’s disease of the skull can cause headaches, hearing disturbances or a malfunction of the nerves that come from the brain. The symptoms depend on what part of the skull is affected and the size of the affected area. Some have no symptoms.

For people with symptoms, medicines used for osteoporosis are also used for Paget’s disease. Occasionally, surgery is necessary.

I doubt if your friend’s lifespan will be shortened.

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