Potassium is Key for Healthy Blood Pressure

Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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Potassium is Key for Healthy Blood Pressure
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Science shows the clear link between low potassium and elevated blood pressure. One example comes from a Texas heart study. Researchers collected urine samples from 3,300 people. The results demonstrated that the lower the potassium1 in the urine (meaning less potassium in the diet) the higher the blood pressure. Quite interestingly, the findings were stronger than the link between salt and blood pressure. African-Americans, who comprised half the study participants, eat less fresh fruit and vegetables and consequently had the highest blood pressure. Researchers estimate that the processed food in America has reduced potassium2 intake to 1/3 of what it should be, setting the stage for cardiovascular disease.

I would like to focus for a moment on the low-sodium propaganda that has been pushed so heavily on those with high blood pressure. Current science indicates that 1/3 of individuals with normal blood pressure and ½ of individuals with high blood pressure have some degree of salt sensitivity. The new research also indicates that a likely cause of this salt sensitivity is a lack of potassium3!

The fact that the myopic public health “experts” in the cardiovascular field are obsessed with making sure our population restricts sodium is not sound advice and certainly does not apply to everyone. Sodium is needed by the adrenal glands to help with energy, by the stomach to assist with digestion, and by every cell in your body. The more you sweat the more sodium you need, especially in hot weather. If your kidneys are normal you can easily handle huge fluctuations in sodium intake, and can process up to 20,000 mgs of dietary salt per day (not that I’m suggesting you eat that much). If you run low on salt your body’s energy systems will be compromised.

Some rather alarming studies in the past year have demonstrated that having low sodium was linked to increased cardiovascular problems and increased mortality. One study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed that in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension4 (PAH)—chronically high blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs—those with the lowest sodium had a tenfold risk of death. PAH is a syndrome marked by narrowing of the arteries in the lungs. Thus, the right ventricle of the heart has to work increasingly hard to pump blood into the lungs for reoxygenation. The ability of the right ventricle to adapt to this increased workload is the single most important determinant of survival in these patients; low sodium makes their hearts unable to keep up with this energetic demand.

Even more surprising findings came from research done at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine5. Analyzing the diet histories of 8,700 Americans over many years researchers found that those who reported consuming the lowest amount of sodium were 80 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease compared to 1/4 of those in the sample group consuming the highest level of sodium. The risk for death from any cause appeared 24 percent greater for those consuming lower salt, but this latter difference was not quite large enough to dismiss the role of chance. The researchers concluded by stating: “Our findings suggest that for the general adult population, higher sodium is very unlikely to be independently associated with higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease or all other causes of death…Our findings do again raise questions about the usefulness or even safety of universal recommendations for low salt diets for all individuals, regardless of their blood pressure status or other health characteristics.”

It is quite obvious that increasing potassium, not lowering sodium, is an important basic for healthy blood pressure. In addition to the blood pressure issue, other signs of a lack of potassium include fatigue, muscle weakness, fluid retention, heart arrhythmia or jittery heart feeling, increased feeling of anxiety, and skin problems (including acne). Low potassium is a primary factor in the development of kidney stones. Prolonged deficiency6 leads to glucose intolerance and risk for type 2 diabetes. Long term potassium deficiency increases the risk for and onset of kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and mental decline.

Getting adequate potassium in your diet is a simple health basic that just can’t be ignored. High potassium foods include fruits such as bananas, citrus fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Dietary supplements with potassium are limited to 99 mg a capsule, but offer some advantages when high quality forms of potassium are used that readily transport to your cells. If you have any of the symptoms on the above list you should increase your dietary and/or supplemental intake of potassium to see how much it helps.

Potassium’s best friend is magnesium, and both minerals are vital for healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular well-being.

Referenced Studies

  1. ^ Lack of Potassium Linked to High Blood Pressure  American Society of Nephrology's annual meeting, in Philadelphia.  Susan Hedayati, et a;.
  2. ^ Potassium Intake at 1/3 of Evolutionary Intake  Physiol Plant.   He FJ, MacGregor GA.
  3. ^ Low Potassium May Be the Key to Salt Sensitivity  Acta Physiol Hung.   Katori M, Majima M.
  4. ^ Low Sodium Predicts Mortality in PAH Patients  American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine  
  5. ^ New Study Casts Further Doubt on Risk of Death from Higher Salt Intake    
  6. ^ Potassium in Health and Disease    He FJ, MacGregor GA.

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