How Does Potassium Affect High Blood Pressure?

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The treatment of hypertension (high blood pressure) involves more than just antihypertensive drugs. In addition to exercise, maintaining an ideal weight, and quitting cigarettes, diet plays an important role in controlling blood pressure.

While most people are aware that too much sodium in the diet can increase blood pressure, many are unaware of how too little of another mineral—potassium—also contributes.

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About Hypertension

Hypertension is one of the most common chronic health conditions in adults. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 49.6% of people in the United States age 20 or over have hypertension. Persistently high blood pressure has serious consequences, leading to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

The treatment of hypertension is an ever-evolving field of medicine influenced by rapidly changing scientific insights and an expanding range of treatment options.

In 2017, the very definition of hypertension changed. Where the 2003 guidelines defined it as 140/90 mmHg or higher, the updated guidelines now regard it as 130/80 mmHg or higher.

The change in definition increased the number of people with hypertension by 14%, according to the American Heart Association. With that said, it only slightly increased the number of people requiring drug treatment.

For others, more conservative treatment is advised by way of diet, exercise, smoking cessation, and other lifestyle interventions.

Potassium and Hypertension

Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. They are present in tissues and bodily fluids and are critical to nerve function, muscle function, fluid regulation, and blood pressure.

Sodium plays a well-known role in blood pressure. Generally less known is the impact of potassium. This mineral is found in many foods that help your muscles work, including muscles that control your heartbeat and breathing. Its levels in the body are largely maintained by the kidneys.

While too much sodium in your diet can increase blood pressure, too little potassium can have the same effect. This is due to the effect potassium has on sodium. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you are able to excrete in urine.

If you don't consume enough potassium, sodium is reabsorbed by the kidneys and retained in the body. To this end, a high potassium intake helps keep the ratio of sodium to potassium in balance, aiding in the control of hypertension.

Studies have shown that potassium deficiency not only increases blood pressure but increases the risk of heart attack and stroke as well. Getting enough potassium may have the opposite effect.

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, increasing your potassium intake by 1.6 grams per day decreases the risk of stroke by 21%.

Role of High-Potassium Diet

While is it clear that potassium is vital to your good health, what is unclear is whether increasing potassium intake directly correlates to a drop in blood pressure.

Most studies have suggested that an increase in potassium may be beneficial to people with hypertension when combined with a reduction in sodium. The benefits in people without hypertension are unclear, and it is unknown whether eating a high-potassium diet has any preventive benefit with respect to hypertension.

Even so, there is no arguing the fact that meeting the recommended daily intake of potassium while avoiding excess sodium is good for your health. This is where many Americans fall short.

According to a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, only 2% of people in the United States meet their recommended daily intake of potassium.

By contrast, the average daily intake of sodium in the United States is 3,400 milligrams (mg)—far in excess of the 2,300 mg recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

High-Potassium Foods

Increasing your daily potassium intake is not always as easy as it sounds. For example, to increase your intake by 1.6 grams, you would need to consume no less than four bananas per day. That's a lot for one person.

There are other foods, however, that are high in potassium that can help you reach that goal, including:

  • One medium potato with skin: 900 milligrams (mg)
  • White beans: 600 mg per ½ cup
  • Beet greens: 600 mg per ½ cup cooked
  • Orange juice: 500 mg per cup
  • Tomato juice: 500 mg per cup
  • Salmon: 400 mg per 3-ounce portion
  • Spinach: 400 mg per ½ cup cooked
  • Avocado: 364 mg per ½ cup

A Word From Verywell

Before embarking on a high-potassium diet, speak with your doctor to ensure that it is safe for you. People with advanced kidney disease or those on ACE inhibitors or spironolactone can end up developing hyperkalemia, a potentially serious condition caused by excessively serum high potassium levels.

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