Potassium: like sex and money, just the right amount

“Why would anyone be so foolish to carry on this asinine habit for so long?” This was my immediate reaction to an article, published by LiveScience and reported at the European Heart Rhythm Association. In effect, the article shows how a most innocent habit, carried out for a long period, can send you to hospital.

A woman living in Monaco was admitted to emergency following a fainting episode. She had no family history of heart problems. Doctors quickly discovered that she had an irregular heart rate. When results of the blood study were reported they were shocked to find her blood potassium was in the hazardous range. But why would it be so low?

A detailed questioning revealed that she had consumed nothing but soda, particularly cola, for half her life. To their amazement she admitted never having touched a glass of water for 16 years! Do the math, and it shows she had drunk two liters (over half a gallon) of cola daily.

So how much do the rest of us drink?

Dr. Kenneth Woliner, a U.S holistic physician, reports in Best Life Herbals, that the average American drinks about 45 gallons (170 liters) of soda a year. One would have to be living on Mars to not know that the excessive consumption of cola does not constitute a healthy lifestyle. High levels of glucose, fructose and caffeine combine to rob the body of potassium.

Dr. David Young, professor of physiology at the University of Mississippi, once remarked, “Potassium is like sex and money, you can never get too much.”

That’s not entirely true as too much can also kill you. But by linking it to sex and money, he got his point across that potassium is a very important mineral.

Potassium is responsible for many functions in the body and must be maintained within a strict range. One of its key tasks is to control the electrical impulse that governs heart rate. Too much potassium can bring the heart to a lethal halt. Too little triggers muscle weakness and an erratic heart rate.

This particular patient was lucky that all she suffered was abnormal rhythm of the heart. Another study from Hawaii reports that low blood levels of potassium can be associated with stroke, one of the leading causes of death in this country.

Dr. Deborah Green, a researcher at Queen’s Medical Centre in Hawaii, followed 5,888 men and women ages 65 and over for eight years. Her conclusion? Patients with low levels of potassium were twice as likely to suffer from ‘ischemic stroke’, the type of stroke in which a blood clot cuts off the supply of blood to the brain.

But she had worse news for those who had an irregular heart rate, low blood potassium and were also taking diuretics (water pills to increase the frequency of urination) to decrease blood pressure. These people faced 10 times the risk of stroke.

So how does potassium protect against stroke? Studies show that potassium, like magnesium, has a potent effect on blood pressure. For instance, researchers have caused blood pressure to increase by simply restricting potassium intake for a little as 10 days. So taking potassium to prevent hypertension is one way to decrease the risk of stroke.

But Dr. Green believes potassium’s effect on blood pressure isn’t the entire solution. It is well known that stroke and coronary attack often occur when there is no evidence of hypertension, narrowed arteries or elevated blood cholesterol. The blood simply forms a clot due to an abnormality in the blood clotting process. It’s believed that potassium can also help to decrease the risk of this happening.

Fortunately, there are more ways to obtain 4,000 milligrams (mgs) of potassium daily than by eating spinach. Three glasses of milk provide 1,200 mgs, a potato with skin 844 mg, banana 450 mgs, and there’s potassium in nuts, citrus fruits, meat, fruits and leafy vegetables.

Hopefully the lady from Monaco has learned the lesson of Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Golden Mean. Not too much and not too little provides greater health than a daily diet of cola.

See the web site www.docgiff.com. For comments info@docgiff.com.

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