DEAR DR. DONOHUE: A recent blood check showed that my potassium was high. I was told to stop eating bananas and drinking orange juice. I also was told to return to the doctor’s office the next week. I did. They took another blood sample. They told me nothing more.

What happens when potassium is high? — F.H.

ANSWER: Potassium has many important jobs. It keeps the body’s electrical charges balanced. It’s involved in transmitting nerve signals. It’s needed to keep the heart beating and muscles contracting. It takes part in keeping the body neither too acid nor too alkaline.

High blood potassium raises blood sugar, weakens muscles, causes nausea and vomiting, and triggers erratic and dangerous heartbeats. When the level is very high, potassium paralysis and death occur. Your potassium must not have been all that high. You had no symptoms.

The causes of a high blood level include kidney illnesses, nonworking adrenal glands, a lack of insulin, sudden death of body cells, overuse of potassium supplements and medicines like beta blockers.

The blood level of potassium can be read erroneously as high when the patient, during blood collection, keeps clenching and unclenching arm muscles. It rises when blood cells break apart in their journey from a patient’s arm to the laboratory. It could be your reading was high because of either of these situations.

It’s hard to come up with an explanation that indicts an illness with raising potassium on one occasion and not keeping it raised for a short while.

The electrolytes — sodium, potassium, bicarbonate and chloride — are not well understood by most people. Yet they are responsible for many body ailments. Readers can read about these minerals in the booklet describing their function. 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: Some days ago, a patient inquired about a pill for tinnitus. I am enclosing an ad for such a pill. I know nothing about this treatment, but I believe it must be too good to be true. — R.P., M.D.

ANSWER: Thank you, Doctor. The ad is for Quietus. Now that you made me aware of it, I see it advertised everywhere. This medicine idea comes from a professional drummer who suffered from tinnitus. Tinnitus is ear noises, ringing, buzzing, whooshing or clanging. It never lets up and intensifies at nighttime. The ingredients in Quietus are kept secret. It’s described as a homeopathic remedy. Homeopathy sprang up in the 19th century as a way to cure illnesses by giving to patients natural products that provoked symptoms similar to those of the sick person. The teaching of homeopathy is summed up in: “like cures like.” The dose of homeopathic medicine is diluted many, many times over, so it doesn’t make people sick. Homeopathy doesn’t enjoy as large a following as it once did.

I agree with the doctor. I am skeptical. I have no proof of its benefits. The ads feature many personal testimonials.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I was delighted to find a recent report from university scientists that states that “beer is a rich source of dietary silicon, which is a key to increasing bone density.” It is apparently effective in preventing osteoporosis. What is the minimum daily requirement of silicon? — D.R.

ANSWER: The latest edition of Dietary Reference Intakes, the standard for vitamin and mineral requirements, has no suggestion for the daily intake or the safe upper limit of silicon. All it reports is an average daily intake of 40 mg for men and 19 for women.

As far as I know there is no universal recommendation to take silicon for prevention of osteoporosis. Maybe such a recommendation will be announced eventually.

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

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