Low Potassium Levels Linked to High Blood Pressure

Low potassium levels linked to high blood pressure, according to recent research. This correlation was found to be most pronounced in African Americans.

High blood pressure (HBP), or hypertension, has been closely linked to various serious and often fatal medical conditions, such as cardiovascular events (strokes and heart attacks), and kidney failure. Obesity, genetics, and type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance), are known to be some of the leading causes of HBP. It’s also been suggested through extensive research, that high levels of sodium (salt), can help lead to HBP, though there have been counter-claims as well. The current research indicates that perhaps low potassium levels are equally, or maybe more, important to prevent, than high sodium levels in preventing HBP.

3,300 individuals participated in the study, approximately 50% being African-American. This study was a part of the larger and broader “Dalas Heart Study.” “The lower the potassium in the urine, hence the lower the potassium in the diet, the higher the blood pressure. This effect was even stronger than the effect of sodium on blood pressure,” states lead author Dr. Susan Hedayati.

This trend persisted in all ages, races, and other possible supplementary risk factors, but the African-Americans were observed to most clearly demonstrate the connection between low potassium and HBP. Dr. Hedayati notes that “Our study included a high percentage of African-Americans, who are known to consume the lowest amounts of potassium in the diet.”

Some common foods known to have high levels of potassium include bananas, citrus, and various vegetables, so consuming larger amounts of these products is certainly suggested (they of course are extremely important in general health as well, and in the prevention of dangerous conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease). It’s the belief of the authors that the importance of stressing higher potassium diets should start to rival recommended low sodium diets. “There has been a lot of publicity about lowering salt or sodium in the diet in order to lower blood pressure, but not enough on increasing dietary potassium,” they say.

The observations of this study are potentially profound, although the actual mechanism by which low potassium leads to HBP is still being investigated. “We are currently doing more research to test how low potassium in the diet affects blood pressure through

the activity of this gene,” says Dr. Hedayati. A further limitation to this current study is that the study subjects consumed various diets, making the specifics of how the mechanism works more difficult to pinpoint. This leads to the need for further, diet-specific research regarding the low potassium – high HBP link, which is also currently underway by the same research group.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Hedayati, Susan. Leventhal, Shari. The American Society of Nephrology news release. November 2008.