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Going To Pot… Potassium I Mean…

I have written previously to sing the praises of magnesium, and now I carry the torch for potassium.Potassium should be the third most common element in your body but often, for several reasons, it is not. Many people are on diuretics for their blood pressure, heart failure, or edema and, unless they are careful with their electrolytes, their potassium can go dangerously low. You have to be careful because certain blood pressure pills like ACE inhibitors and ARBs can cause your potassium to go too high. Even certain diuretics can be associated with high potassium. Both high and low potassium are dangerous. Luckily your doctor can and should be checking this on a regular basis with your bloodwork.

Potassium is crucial for the normal function of your heart, your nervous system and muscle function. It is also important in blood pressure management. If your potassium or magnesium are too low that can cause your blood pressure to go up. That’s right…a shortage of either element can be a cause of your hypertension. These minerals should be checked in every patient with a blood pressure problem and be repleated before your doctor reaches for the blood pressure pills.

The reason that potassium is important in blood pressure control is because it has a significant effect on muscle contraction and arterial wall relaxation, but most Americans reportedly get half of the recommended daily allowance. A banana a day is not enough potassium to make a real difference in your health. The average reported intake of potassium from food is about half of the 4,700 milligrams (mg) recommended. Research demonstrates that these low levels of potassium may have a significant impact on blood pressure, especially as it relates to the amount of salt normally found in a Western diet according to Dr. Paul Welton, professor of epidemiology at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. He did an analysis in 1997 of over 29 trials that demonstrated how low levels of potassium resulted in higher systolic blood pressure readings. According to Dr Welton, studies performed since then have found similar results. “The evidence is very strong and very consistent. A higher potassium intake may blunt the effects of excess salt on blood pressure. Potassium’s
effect is bigger in people Vegetables tha who have higher blood pressure, bigger in older people, bigger in people who are consuming a lot of salt and bigger in black people.”

Other recent research found that “women without hypertension who consumed the most potassium (nearly 3,200 mg/day) had a 21 percent reduced risk of stroke. Further, women who consumed the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who consumed the least.”

According to a recent review article by Dr Mercola, “Potassium should be the third most abundant mineral in the human body. Adequate amounts of potassium are also associated with quicker recovery from exercise and improved muscle strength. As an electrolyte, potassium helps to regulate the fluid balance in your cells and throughout your body. Fluid balance is essential to maintaining life, preventing dehydration at the cellular level and maintaining brain function. Potassium is important in the transmission of nerve impulses in your brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.”

There is evidence that low levels of potassium have been linked with high levels of insulin and glucose, associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. So , clearly, keeping your potassium at the right level is important. As I said earlier, if you have any doubts about your potassium level you can easily have your blood checked but you have to ask for the more sensitive Red Blood Cell Potassium if you want real accuracy. As Dr Mercola points out “Getting nutrients from your food instead of supplements is preferable as your food contains more than a single nutrient and in different forms. For instance, potassium found in fruits and vegetables is potassium citrate or potassium malate, while supplements are often potassium chloride. The citrate and malate forms help produce alkali, which may promote bone health and preserve lean muscle mass as you age.

So when you are told your blood pressure is too high, rather than reach for yet another medication, why not look at your magnesium and potassium intake and their levels in your blood and work on the basis of your illness, rather than just trying to medicate it away. The pills will lower your blood pressure but they don’t address the underlying cause of your high blood pressure and they have many many side effects.

Work with your doctor to focus on the basics…improving your diet, replacing electrolytes, getting some exercise etc. If you don’t manage your wellness the medical profession will manage your illness but we don’t have a great track record of restoring your health.

Remember what Thomas Edison said way back in 1903. “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Until then…get well…stay well.

Dr. Barry