Here’s a One-Two Punch for Lowering Blood Pressure: As You Reduce Your Sodium, Increase Your Potassium

Doctors often tell people with high blood pressure to decrease their consumption of sodium. Now researchers at the Loyola University Health System in suburban Chicago have found that it is probably wise to increase potassium intake at the same time.

It seems that boosting consumption of potassium in conjunction with cutting back on sodium works better to reduce blood pressure than either step alone. That conclusion is based on a finding that the ratio of sodium to potassium in urine was a stronger predictor of cardiovascular disease than the presence of either chemical alone. 

The study that produced that finding, called the “Trials of Hypertension Prevention,” tracked 2,974 participants with blood pressure just under (what is considered) high for 10 to 15 years to see if they would develop heart or arterial disease. One trial during the study collected intermittent urine samples from the study subjects over an 18-month period, while another trial did the same over a 36-month period.

At the end of the long study, the researchers ascertained that participants with the highest sodium levels in their urine were 20 percent more likely to suffer various forms of cardiovascular disease than their lowest-sodium counterparts. However, the sodium-cardiovascular disease link wasn’t strong enough to be statistically significant. 

But when the researchers looked at sodium-to-potassium ratios, they found that the subjects who had the highest sodium-to-potassium ratios in their urine were 50 percent more likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with the lowest sodium-to-potassium ratios-a statistically significant difference. 

The Institute of Medicine, the congressionally mandated body that sets national dietary recommendations, has decreed that healthy adults from the ages of 19 to 50 years should consume no more than a teaspoon of salt daily (2,300 milligrams). The vast majority of Americans-75 percent of women and 95 percent of men-exceed this amount. 

The recommended daily intake of potassium is 4.7 grams. Potassium is abundant in potatoes, sweet potatoes, yogurt, fat-free milk, tuna, lima beans, bananas, tomato sauce, and orange juice, and is also available in off-the-shelf supplements.

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