Over 70 years ago, potassium was found to have a natriuretic effect and was used in patients with heart failure. However, it took many years for its role in the control of blood pressure to be recognized. Recently, epidemiological and clinical studies in man and experimental studies in animals have shown that increasing potassium intake towers blood pressure and that communities with a high potassium intake tend to have lower population blood pressures. Several studies have shown an interaction between salt intake and potassium intake. However, the recent DASH-Sodium (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) study demonstrates an additive effect of a low salt and high potassium diet on blood pressure. Increasing potassium intake may have other beneficial effects, for example, reducing the risk of stroke and preventing the development of renal disease independent of its effect on blood pressure. A high potassium intake reduces calcium excretion and could play an important role in the management of hypercalciuria and kidney stone formation, as well as bone demineralization. Potassium intake may also play an important role in carbohydrate intolerance. A reduced serum potassium increases the risk of lethal ventricular arrhythmias in those at risk, i.e. patients with ischemic heart disease, heart failure or left ventricular hypertrophy, and increasing potassium intake may prevent this. In this article, we address the evidence for the important role of potassium intake in regulating blood pressure and other beneficial effects of potassium which may be independent of and additional to its effect on blood pressure.
He FJ, MacGregor GA. Potassium: more beneficial effects.
2003 October Blood Pressure Unit, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London, UK.