Can you have too much of anything these days? Surely, by now, you know that you can get too much sugar, too much salt and too many calories, to name a few things. But you can also get into trouble by getting too little of some nutrients. So this week, here’s why potassium is so like sex and money.
Paul Whelton, Professor of Epidemiology at Tulane School of Public Health in New Orleans, is an expert on hypertension. He reports good news in the Nutrition Action Health Letter for those who love to add salt to their food. He claims good evidence shows that consuming enough potassium may counter the effect of excess salt on blood pressure.
In 1997 Whelton combined the research of 29 studies that had randomly selected people who got high or low levels of potassium, primarily from supplements. The result? He discovered a three to five-point reduction in blood pressure in those who had taken a normal potassium supplement.
But those who received from 3,500 milligrams (mgs) to 4,700 mg daily in their diet showed a drop of seven points. As Whelton says, “That’s not to be sneezed at as it resulted in a 30 percent decreased risk of stroke.”
The other significant finding was that potassium had the greatest effect on patients who needed it the most, namely, people with the highest blood pressure, the elderly, and others who were eating a lot of salt.
Dr. Deborah Green, a researcher at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, followed 5,888 men and women ages 65 and over for eight years. She discovered that those with low levels of potassium were twice as likely to suffer a stroke due to a blood clot.
There’s more worrying news. One of the risks of getting older is an irregular heart rate called auricular fibrillation. Patients who suffer from this condition, who are also taking diuretics (water pills) and have low blood potassium, face 10 times the risk of a stroke compared to those who have normal heart rhythm , no need for diuretics and normal potassium.
So getting enough potassium from food is the ideal way to obtain this mineral. Whelton says that getting it from supplements is safe as long as you consult your doctor. This is because patients with kidney disease can get too much potassium. And some drugs can interfere with the excretion of potassium.
Bess Dawson-Hughes, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston is an authority on potassium. She reports that potassium can also help to prevent osteoporosis (brittle bones).
Hughes explains that potassium rich foods generate alkali and that bone is the great reservoir for the storage of alkali. Alkali is needed to counteract acid produced by protein rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish or dairy products. She adds that if the body gets more acid than it can excrete, it breaks down bone to add alkali to the system. If this situation continues over a long period of time, bone loss can lead to osteoporosis and fractures.
The article in Nutrition Action reminded me of a column I’d written years ago about Dr. David Young, Professor of Physiology at the University of Mississippi. He hit a home run when he said, “Potassium is like sex and money. You can never get too much!”
This is good news for me.
Thank God, there are more ways to consume potassium than eating a cup of spinach. I’d die for roast beef and potatoes, both loaded with potassium, especially when you eat the skin of the potato. You can also get 1,200 milligrams of potassium by drinking three glasses of milk. A banana contains 450 mg and there’s potassium in citrus fruits, nuts and green leafy vegetables.
So there’s a message to all as we start 2016. While there is so much strife in this world, this is a good time to make love and money, not war.
And don’t forget the benefits of potassium.
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