Potassium-rich foods may be key

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Foods that are rich in potassium may help offset the damage of excess salt, a new study suggests. Image credit: Dina Issam/EyeEm/Getty Images.
  • Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide.
  • Diets high in sodium increase a person’s risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
  • With the widespread consumption of processed foods, many people find it difficult to limit sodium intake.
  • Now, a study has found that, for women, a potassium-rich diet can combat the effects of a high-sodium diet and lower blood pressure.
  • In men, however, a potassium-rich diet had no significant effect.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of death worldwide, ending an estimated 17.9 million lives each year.

In the United States, CVD causes 1 in 4 deaths in men and 1 in 5 deaths in the entire population. A quarter of all deaths in the UK are due to CVD. The main risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, but diet is also a contributing factor.

A high sodium diet is widely believed increase the risk of high blood pressure. Processed foods, especially ultra-processed foods, often contain high levels of salt, so many people find it difficult to control their sodium intake.

A study from the Netherlands, published in European Heart Journalhas found that women may be able to combat the effects of sodium by eating a potassium-rich diet, potentially lowering their risk of CVD.

Prof. Tim Spector, co-founder of ZOE, said Medical News Today:

“Well-led and large cohort – [the study was started] in the 90s, which is actually a long time ago now: Our food environment and sources of dietary sodium have changed quite a bit since then. The authors also acknowledge that drawing a clinically meaningful conclusion from a 24-hour urine sample is a serious limitation.

The large-scale study recruited almost 25,000 participants from the EPIC-Norfolk study in the UK. Participants ranged in age from 40 to 79, with an average age of 59 for men and 58 for women.

At the start of the study, all participants completed a lifestyle questionnaire. The researchers then measured their blood pressure and collected a urine sample. They assessed dietary intake of sodium and potassium levels by measuring urinary levels of these two minerals.

The researchers analyzed the effect of potassium intake on blood pressure, after adjusting for age, gender and sodium intake.

In women, they found a negative correlation between potassium intake and systolic blood pressure (SBP)—as intake increased, SBP decreased. The effect was greatest in those women who had the highest sodium intake.

In women with high sodium intake, each 1 gram increase in potassium per day was associated with 2.4 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg) lower SBP.

“Decreasing SBP by slightly more than 1 mm/Hg is not clinically relevant in practice. What this shows is that sodium intake alone is not the only factor to focus on when preventing CVD, and personalized nutrition approaches are essential in achieving optimal health outcomes,” noted Prof. Spector.

The researchers found no relationship between potassium intake and blood pressure in men.

of WHO recommends that adults should consume 3,510 milligrams (mg) of potassium and no more than 2,000 mg of sodium per day. Most adults currently have too many sodium and too little potassium in their diet.

To increase potassium intake, a person should include foods that are rich in potassium in their diet.

This includes:

  • bananas
  • sweet potato
  • dried fruits, such as raisins, apricots and prunes
  • beans, peas and lentils
  • seafood
  • avocado.

Prof. Spector offered similar advice, saying, “I think the advice we should be giving is to increase plant foods that are naturally high in potassium, like avocados, legumes, artichokes, beets and apricots, and minimize ultra-processed foods that are often high in sodium.”

The researchers followed the participants after an average of 19.5 years, with the last records in March 2016. During this time, 55% were hospitalized or died due to cardiovascular disease.

The researchers looked for any association between dietary potassium and cardiovascular events, controlling for age, sex, body mass index, sodium intake, use of lipid-lowering medications, smoking, alcohol intake, diabetes, and previous heart attack or stroke. in the brain.

They found that, overall, those with the highest potassium intake had a 13% lower risk of cardiovascular events than those with the lowest.

When analyzed separately, high potassium intake lowers men’s risk by 7%, and women’s by 11%. Dietary sodium did not influence the relationship between potassium and CVD.

“The results suggest that potassium helps maintain heart health, but that women benefit more than men. The relationship between potassium and cardiovascular events was the same regardless of salt intake, suggesting that potassium has other ways of protecting the heart than increasing sodium excretion,” explains study author Prof. Liffert Vogt, from the University of Amsterdam Medical Centers in the Netherlands.

Although higher potassium intake had the greatest effect in those women with a high sodium diet, current advice is to limit sodium intake.

“Merely reducing sodium intake does not allow for a health-enhancing diet, it simply tries to reduce risk by removing a single food component, which is very reducing,” said Prof. Spector.

“The UK salt reduction program launched almost 20 years ago has helped reduce the salt content of processed foods, but the prevalence of CVD has shown little evidence of change – reducing sodium intake is not the magic bullet in the fight against CVD”, he emphasized.

So perhaps – especially for women – increasing your intake of potassium-rich foods could be an effective way to try and protect cardiovascular health.

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