You probably think we’re posting this article to try to sell you something. We aren’t. This article is about potassium, the only one of the minerals we can’t sell you and you can’t get (at least in any useful amounts) without a doctor’s prescription.
Since you can’t buy potassium in doses of more than 99 milligrams, most retailers won’t tell you about it. But of all the mineral supplements and mineral nutrients you can take, potassium might be the most important.
Several years ago it was this contributing editor’s privilege to spend several weeks interviewing Dr. Demetrio Sodi-Pallares (1913-2003), a professor at the medicals school of Baylor, Michigan, and UCLA. He was an internationally renowned cardiologist whose pioneering work in EKG became the foundation of modern cardiology.
And although he was a colleague of well-known surgeons like DeBakey, who pioneered bypass surgery, Dr. Sodi, as we called him, preferred alternative methods, ranging from drinking more water to vitamin and mineral supplements. Dr. Sodi, however, always concerned himself with making treatment available to the poorest of the poor.
One time a woman whose heart had been damaged by rheumatic fever was referred to Dr. Sodi for ongoing heart treatment.
Her labs showed that he had at least three prominent metabolic problems. Her levels of T4, the thyroid hormone, were very low, .0.9 micrograms per milliliter.
Her cholesterol and triglycerides were astronomically high. The lab reported her total cholesterol as 800 mg/dl. Her triglycerides were 4500 mg/dl. A healthy level of total cholesterol is 190 or lower. A healthy level of triglycerides is 125 or lower.
At first, Dr. Sodi simply didn’t believe the lab. This is the sort of thing that inexperienced laboratory technicians do when they accidentally contaminate blood with mineral supplements, he complained.
Sodi sent the woman’s blood samples to two other labs for confirmation. The numbers came back about the same. One lab reported the triglycerides were 4339 and the other reported 4442. Here was a person whose arteries were literally clogged with fat.
Dr. Sodi knew that the need to lower lipids was urgent, and that other medications didn’t work. He also knew that mineral supplementation featuring potassium sometimes worked wonders in recovery from heart attack, even when eliminating fat wasn’t tried.
So Dr. Sodi gave his patient some novel instructions. Eliminate added salt from your diet. No canned soups, no pickles, no food made from mixes, only a half a teaspoon of sea salt added to food once a day for taste. No mineral supplements were prescribed quite yet.
He showed her a sewing thimble. “This much salt and no more in any one day,” he said.
He further instructed his patient to eliminate foods that are naturally high in sodium. This is a long list that includes otherwise healthy foods such as carrots, celery, and egg substitutes.
And to see what was really causing high cholesterol and high triglycerides in this patient, Dr. Sodi ordered her to eat two scrambled egg yolks (not the whites, since they are relatively high in sodium) every day and to season her vegetables with a stick (4 ounces, or about 150 g) of butter every day. There might be a need for mineral supplements if anemia occurred, but the first priority was getting blood lipids down.
If this patient improved, it was not going to be because she had eliminated fat form her diet. It was not going to be because Dr. Sodi had prescribed the latest and greatest in lipid-lowering medication. It was going to be because she balanced sodium with potassium.
Part of Dr. Sodi’s concern was that his patient had no insurance, and he wished to spare her expense. And even though this doctor was the author of 314 papers and 12 books, and declared by the American Heart Association to be the “greatest electrocardiologist of the twentieth century,” he really didn’t know what to expect.
The patient came back two weeks later.
She had eliminated 95 percent of the sodium in her diet.
She had started consuming 10 times as much potassium even without taking mineral supplements.
Her cholesterol had fallen from 800 to 240.
Her triglycerides went from 4500 to 600.
Dr. Sodi wasn’t convinced he had the makings of a line of miraculous mineral supplements. (In his 70 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Sodi recommended mineral supplements, but he never sold them.) Dr. Sodi told his patient, “OK, now go back to your low-cholesterol diet, but eat any salty food you like.”
In another two weeks the patient came back to the office.
Her triglycerides were back up to 2224. Her cholesterol was back up to 800. Energetic on her last visit, this time she asked for thyroid medication to help her deal with fatigue. So Dr. Sodi put her back on low sodium and high potassium.
The third visit the woman’s triglycerides had fallen from 2224 to 600, still too high but drastically improved. Her cholesterol was once again 240.
We think of 240 being high cholesterol, but we don’t have any medications that lower cholesterol by 70% in 14 days. Neither, of course, did Dr. Sodi. Simple mineral supplements and fruits and vegetables were all that were needed.
I mentioned this experience on a radio show, one sponsored by a maker of mineral supplements (who, reasonably, expected me to talk about their mineral supplements, but you can’t talk about your sponsors’ products all the time).
One of the callers was a man who had two heart attacks and two angioplasties over twelve years. He only felt worse, and he kept getting prescriptions for larger and larger doses of Lasix, Norvasc, Tenormin, and Lescol. He decided to stay on medication by to take some basic mineral supplements, eat more fruit, and carefully avoid salt.
Two weeks later he emailed me to say:
“Had my routine check-up yesterday by my cardiologist and she was surprised and pleased with my progress. We (note that the writer regards choice of medication as decision in which he participates) have started reducing my Lasix and Norvasc and wills top both in a couple of weeks. In (six weeks) we will do a stress test to have a closer look at the heart.
“Another bit of good news is the improvement in my cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are 150 down to 80 total cholesterol 217 down to 181, HDL 40 up to 48, and LDL 147 down to 117. How about that!”
It’s only fair to add that this writer had been taking policosanol for cholesterol, but he had been extremely careful to follow his low-salt, higher-potassium diet with fruits and vegetables three times a day. About six weeks later he added mineral supplements to his routine—and started playing golf again.
We want you to buy mineral supplements, don’t get us wrong. Just don’t forget to get enough of the mineral type supplements we can’t sell you. Get your potassium.