Potassium Level Impacts High Blood Pressure More Than Sodium
Studies have clearly shown that having the correct balance of potassium to sodium is far more important than lowering salt alone. Potassium is a naturally occurring mineral your body uses as an electrolyte (substance in solution that conducts electricity), and it is vital for optimal health and normal functioning.
Potassium works in your body to relax the walls of your arteries, keep your muscles from cramping, and lowers your blood pressure.3 The reduction in blood pressure with added potassium has also been associated in studies with a reduced risk of stroke.4
While diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating (such as when using a sauna) and some drugs may deplete or disrupt your potassium balance, the most common reason for low potassium is eating a potassium-poor diet.
If you’re eating mostly processed foods, your sodium-to-potassium balance is virtually guaranteed to be inversed.
The average reported intake of potassium from food is about half of the 4,700 mg recommended.5 Research demonstrates these low levels of potassium may have a significant impact on blood pressure, especially when combined with too much salt.
Dr. Paul Welton, professor of epidemiology at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, analyzed 29 trials that demonstrated low levels of potassium resulted in higher systolic blood pressure readings.6 Studies performed since then have found similar results.7,8 According to Welton:9
“The evidence is very strong and very consistent. A higher potassium intake may blunt the effects of excess salt on blood pressure. Potassium’s effect is bigger in people who have higher blood pressure, bigger in older people, bigger in people who are consuming a lot of salt and bigger in black people.”
The Many Benefits of Potassium
Recent research found that women without hypertension who consumed the most potassium (nearly 3,200 mg/day) had a 21 percent reduced risk of stroke. Further, women who consumed the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who consumed the least.10
Adequate amounts of potassium are also associated with quicker recovery from exercise and improved muscle strength.11,12 As an electrolyte, potassium helps to regulate the fluid balance in your cells and throughout your body.13
This fluid balance is essential to maintaining life, preventing dehydration at the cellular level and maintaining brain function.14
For example, potassium is important in the transmission of nerve impulses in your brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.15 Nerve impulses transmitting information from one nerve to the next happens as the result of electrical activity. This activity is what an electrocardiogram measures as it tracks heart activity.
Low levels of potassium have also been linked with high levels of insulin and glucose, associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.16 These results have been found in several studies,17 leading researchers to recommend dietary choices that boost potassium levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
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