Cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, are increasingly common in the United States. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly half of all adults in the United States have hypertension. While many types of medication exist to help people manage their hypertension, lifestyle changes can often be effective ways to lower blood pressure. This is especially true in people that don’t have an underlying condition causing high blood pressure.
Salt, in particular, plays a crucial role in hypertension. Too much salt intake can cause blood pressure to increase, which is why reducing sodium intake is a common lifestyle change people can make to manage hypertension.
This is challenging, however, given the prevalence of processed foods in the diet of many Americans, which contain high levels of sodium. A new study published in the European Heart Journal sheds new light on the benefits of consuming potassium-rich foods on hypertension, not just reducing salt intake.
Potassium and sodium have an inverse relationship; when consumption of potassium goes up, the body is able to excrete more sodium. That drop in sodium can lead to improved blood pressure levels. Foods high in potassium include avocados, bananas, leafy greens, and fatty fish.
To better understand the health benefits of consuming more potassium, researchers included nearly 25,000 people from the EPIC-Norfolk study, a population-based prospective study designed to examine the connection between diet and genetic factors for a range of health conditions. Participants were asked to complete health questionnaires, regular blood pressure screenings, and urine samples. The researchers used these metrics to study the connection between dietary intake of potassium and the impact on blood pressure.
The most significant finding from the study was the difference in how potassium impacted men versus women. In women, potassium intake led to a decrease in blood pressure. When factoring in sodium intake, this decrease was only observed in women who consumed high amounts of sodium.
In men, there was no correlation between increased potassium intake and decreased blood pressure.
Researchers also found that of about 13,500 participants who died after about 20 years in the study, participants with the highest intake of potassium showed a roughly 13% lower risk of cardiovascular events. This included both men and women.
These findings suggest that heart-healthy diets should focus on both reducing salt intake and increasing potassium consumption.