Potassium: Your secret to lowering blood pressure


Potassium: Your secret to lowering blood pressure

Fighting high blood pressure is a balancing act.  If we get in too much of one mineral at the expense of too little of another, that delicate balance is swayed.  This is how it is for many Americans.  The average American diet delivers too much of the mineral sodium and too little of the mineral potassium.  If we reverse this imbalance, our ability to gain improved blood pressure control would translate into fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease.

Consistently consuming a high salt or sodium diet with not enough potassium may potentially raise our risk of high blood pressure.  Basically, both sodium and potassium affect our blood pressure.  A number of studies have shown an association between low potassium intake and increased blood pressure and a higher risk of strokes.  These studies have shown potassium’s power in playing a vital role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

One such study is a review published in American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, which explored the link between potassium, sodium and the sodium-potassium ratio.  It has been known for some time that decreasing sodium intake is a well-established and recommended means to help lower high blood pressure or hypertension.  This study is suggesting that by lowering sodium but increasing potassium, that this can have an equally important effect on hypertension.

Why potassium is important in blood pressure

Potassium is not only a mineral but also an electrolyte necessary for nerves to transport messages and to help muscles contract.  Other functions of potassium include keeping the heart beating and transporting nutrients to cells while removing cellular waste.  Our bones require potassium to remain healthy and when there is sufficient potassium intake in our diet, kidney stone formation may be averted. 

The way potassium improves blood pressure is by helping the kidneys to work more efficiently.  It can lower blood pressure by balancing out the negative effects of salt. 

The kidneys help to control blood pressure by controlling the amount of fluid stored in the body – the more fluid stored, the higher blood pressure will be.  When the kidneys filter the blood, they remove any extra fluid which then is processed into urine.  In order to pull the excess fluid or water across the wall of cells from the bloodstream into a collecting channel, it uses a delicate balance of sodium and potassium for this to happen.  Consuming too much sodium or salt raises the amount of sodium in the bloodstream upsetting the delicate balance which reduces the kidneys ability to remove water.  But when a person eats more fruits and vegetables rich in potassium, this helps to restore the delicate balance, helping the kidneys work easier and helps lower blood pressure to a healthy level.

Using both sodium and potassium to maintain healthy blood pressure

Both sodium and potassium are necessary in maintaining healthy blood pressure but in different capacities.  The study pointed out that while sodium is still a key player in perhaps resulting in raising our blood pressure if too much is consumed, simply reducing salt intake alone may not be enough to control hypertension.

Increasing intake of potassium is important but it does take a more conscious effort for many people to do this.  Potassium is found abundantly in various fruits and vegetables.  The vast majority of people do not consume adequate amounts of these key foods to always get in an adequate amount of potassium regularly.  The study explained that as humans evolved, their primary food sources came from fruits, vegetables, roots, beans, and grains, all of which supply ample amounts of potassium.  Salt was harder to come by so we have evolved to crave salt.  Then the food industry came along using salt for flavoring and as a preservative for processed foods and have been fulfilling our craving for salt ever since.

During this same time, our potassium levels have steadily dropped as so as our intake of rich sources of potassium such as fruits and vegetables.  The typical Western diet which is high in sodium and low in potassium has significantly raised our risk for developing high blood pressure. 

Recommendation for potassium intake

The Institute of Medicine recommends that for both adult men and women 4700 milligrams of potassium is required daily in order to lower blood pressure.  When we consume this level of potassium regularly, it can help reduce the risk of not only hypertension but also the development of kidney stones and bone loss.

Some of the best food sources of potassium include the following:

·      Kidney beans – 600 mg in one cup

·      Dried fruit such as apricots, peaches and figs – 1500 mg in one cup

·      Bananas – 400 mg in one banana

·      Avocado – 975 mg in one avocado

·      Salmon – 500 mg in a 3-ounce portion

·      Acorn squash – 900 mg in one cup

·      Milk – 300 mg in one cup

·      Dark leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard and bok choy when cooked– 800 mg, 1,000 mg and 600 mg, respectively in one cup

·      Potatoes – 900 mg in one medium Russet potato

·      Sun-dried tomatoes – 1800 mg in one cup