Potassium as important as sodium for healthy blood pressure


A high salt diet is known to increase
the risk of hypertension. A recent
review concludes that consuming adequate potassium levels might be just as important for maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
High blood pressure (or hypertension) is a silent killer. Worldwide, it affects an estimated 1 billion people. Approximately 75 million of these live in the United States – totaling around 1 in 3 people. The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that hypertension is behind 51 percent of stroke-related deaths and 45 percent of heart disease deaths.
Studies over recent years have clearly demonstrated that eating a diet high in salt (and therefore sodium), such as the standard Western diet, can lead to hypertension.
This most recent review, published in American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, shows that high sodium intake is not the only important dietary factor; potassium also has a vital role to play. Potassium, an electrolyte, is necessary for nerves to transport messages and for muscles to contract. It keeps the heart beating and helps to ship nutrients into cells and remove cellular waste. Potassium also assists in the maintenance of healthy bones and reduces the risk of kidney stones.
The author of the current review, Alicia McDonough, Ph.D., professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, sums up her findings: “Decreasing sodium intake is a well-established way to lower blood pressure, but evidence suggests that increasing dietary potassium may have an equally important effect on hypertension.”
Her review explores the links between potassium, sodium, and the sodium-potassium ratio, delving into a range of studies in the field and drawing conclusions about potassium’s benefits. The investigation included interventional and population studies, as well as research into the molecular mechanisms involved.
McDonough found a number of population studies demonstrating that higher dietary potassium, as rated by urinary excretion or dietary recall, was generally associated with lower blood pressure, regardless of the level of sodium intake.
Other studies looking specifically at potassium supplements gave similar findings. Beyond population studies, McDonough looked at sodium-potassium research in rodent models to help explain the potential mechanisms behind this interaction. It seems that the body uses sodium to keep a check on potassium blood levels.

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