OCT 09, 2017 9:16 AM PDT

For the Sake of Your Arteries, Eat More Bananas

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

When your muscles feel stiff - if you’ve just woken up or you’re sore from exercise - it’s difficult to move around as loosely as you normally do. Arteries can stiffen in a similar way, but the consequences are much more serious: heart disease and death.

In a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, scientists illustrate the importance of potassium in helping arteries stay healthy and flexible. Potassium is a mineral found in bananas, avocados, leafy greens, and root vegetables. Using a series of models from the organism level to the cellular level, UAB researchers show just how dangerous it can be when dietary potassium hits rock bottom.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, adults and adolescents should be taking in 4700 milligrams of potassium every day. For perspective, that is about 11 bananas or 6.6 avocados, but the easiest (and healthiest) way to achieve any daily recommended amount of a nutrient would be to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.

For people who consume much less potassium than is recommended, the risk of pathogenic vascular calcification is a lot higher than it is for people who eat more potassium-rich foods. Vascular calcification, the process of calcium aggregating in major arteries, leads to hardening of the arteries that makes it more difficult for them to stretch in response to increasing blood pressure. With arteries less able to expand and deflate as blood flows through the blood vessels, the heart has to work harder to pump enough blood to the body’s organs. When the heart is overworked, congestive heart failure can develop.

Thus, low dietary potassium is predictive of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.

For the first time in a mice model, UAB scientists, led by Yabing Chen, PhD, clearly demonstrated how low dietary potassium leads to aortic stiffness and arterial hardening. This is compared to healthy dietary potassium levels, which are subsequently linked to dwindling levels of hardening and stiffness. With this relationship so definitively exhibited, Chen hopes that increasing amounts of dietary potassium could be a preventative tool to ward off heart disease and that her research could lead to potential therapy targets.

"The findings have important translational potential," confirmed co-author Paul Sanders, MD. "Since they demonstrate the benefit of adequate potassium supplementation on prevention of vascular calcification in atherosclerosis-prone mice, and the adverse effect of low potassium intake."

About the study

Chen and her team worked with live mice, mouse artery cross-sections, and mouse vascular smooth muscle cells. Mice fed low amounts of dietary potassium were prone to arterial hardening and aortic stiffness, while the mice on a high-potassium diet were virtually immune to both conditions. Cross-sections exposed to similar levels of potassium showed similar results.

The present study was published in JCI Insight.

Sources: Circulation, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Health.gov, MedlinePlus.gov

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
FEB 10, 2021
Cardiology
Finding the Link Between Air Pollution & Heart Disease
FEB 10, 2021
Finding the Link Between Air Pollution & Heart Disease
While many studies have shown that air pollution is linked to negative health impacts including poor cardiovascular heal ...
APR 20, 2021
Cardiology
How Low Can You Go? Diastolic Blood Pressure Standards May Change
APR 20, 2021
How Low Can You Go? Diastolic Blood Pressure Standards May Change
Blood pressure readings are a standard part of even the most basic health checks. Now some researchers are suggesting th ...
MAY 11, 2021
Cardiology
Red Blood Cells Could Help Predict Recovery in Cardiovascular Patients
MAY 11, 2021
Red Blood Cells Could Help Predict Recovery in Cardiovascular Patients
Cells are one of the basic building blocks of life. There are hundreds of different cell types, and they all work togeth ...
JUN 21, 2021
Health & Medicine
Essential Hypertension: The Basics
JUN 21, 2021
Essential Hypertension: The Basics
Also known as primary hypertension, essential hypertension is high blood pressure without a specific, known cause. It is ...
JUN 30, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
A Deep Learning Tool for Faster, Better Heart Disease Diagnoses
JUN 30, 2021
A Deep Learning Tool for Faster, Better Heart Disease Diagnoses
A new deep learning tool could help slash the time it takes to interpret cardiology scans to diagnose obstructive corona ...
AUG 15, 2021
Neuroscience
Cholesterol in the Brain Linked to Alzheimer's Plaques
AUG 15, 2021
Cholesterol in the Brain Linked to Alzheimer's Plaques
Cholesterol levels in the brain tightly regulate the production of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain, a key feature of A ...
Loading Comments...