By: Mari Gold
To discover the relationship between potassium levels and type 2 diabetes, a Johns Hopkins University study looked at more than 12,000 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC), performed in 1987 and 1996. The study found that as potassium levels went up, the incidence of diabetes among study participants went down. The more than 2,000 African Americans in the study had lower average potassium levels than the 9,000 Caucasians and were twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Hsin-Chieh “Jessica” Yeh, PhD, a study investigator, notes that the findings do not mean that everyone should immediately start taking potassium supplements. They do indicate that a low potassium level is a risk factor for developing diabetes and that, on average, African Americans have lower potassium levels than whites. Yeh also states that low potassium levels are linked in healthy people to higher insulin and glucose levels, both hallmarks of diabetes.
Low potassium level is a “novel” risk factor for diabetes that may be as important for some ethnicities as obesity, especially because earlier studies have shown that African Americans get less potassium in their diets than whites.
Still to come are clinical trials to see if managing potassium levels, either through diet changes or by adding supplements, reduces the risk of diabetes for some ethnic groups. Meanwhile, eating foods high in potassium can’t hurt. Potassium is found in many foods, including bananas, lentils, melons, and yogurt.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2011