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Potassium: Could Your High Blood Pressure be due to a potassium-salt imbalance?

Potassium is one of the most abundant and important nutrients in the body. It is often overlooked when assessing blood pressure, fatigue, constipation, and other discomforting issues-- things that may be caused by the root issue of being hypokalemic (low in potassium). Read more below!


When I say “potassium” what do you think of?

Do you think of eating a banana to avoid cramps? Do you think of your uncle who had heart issues and had to supplement potassium? You've hear of it a thousand times but you don't know what it is or what it does in the body.


Potassium is so important for the body, yet it is often looked over when we are trying to pinpoint problems with our health. As a holistic approach dietitian, I think it is important to look at the root cause of things. Often, when we have problems, they can be due to nutrition deficiencies or imbalances of nutrients.


According to Harvard Health, thousands of years ago when humans were hunter-gatherers, potassium was abundant in the diet while salt was scarce. This is because people had an ancestral diet and there were no processed foods (3). Today, Americans who follow an “Americanized diet” or “western diet” (and no, I am not talking about Tex Mex when I say Western) get only half of the potassium that they need daily, while salt intake is through the roof and often 2-5x what it should be daily (3). This imbalance is likely one of the main drivers of the high blood pressure epidemic that we are experiencing in westernized/developed countries.


Not only do those healthy individuals with salt-potassium imbalances have hypokalemia (low potassium). Those with kidney issues, high blood pressure, brittle bones, and kidney stones often have potassium deficiency. But sometimes a mind deficiency can also look as normal as constipation, fatigue, muscle weakness, or generalized discomfort (2)(3).


This little mineral has a huge impact on the body. It is needed for almost all intracellular activities (2). We are completely made up of cells, so of course it will have a big impact on how we are feeling if we don’t have enough potassium in our diet! Potassium is excreted in the urine, stool, and through sweat. So dehydration, IBS, and using diuretics on a regular basis can often mean a low potassium load in the body (2).

Potassium is found in many foods and is also used in salt substitutes. I used to always tell my cardiac rehab patients to be wary of what kind of salt substitute they were using so that they wouldn’t get too much potassium in their diet and then end up having heart issues. This is because the body absorbs about 85-90% of dietary potassium (2).


Foods high in potassium

  • Apricots

  • Lentils

  • Squash

  • Potatoes

  • Prunes

  • Orange juice

  • Bananas

  • Dairy

  • Leafy greens

  • Salmon

  • Beef

  • Poultry

  • Broccoli

  • High quality soy

  • Tomatoes








REFERENCES



















REFERENCES

  1. https://www.uhhospitals.org/blog/articles/2022/09/the-surprising-health-benefits-of-magnesium

  2. https://www.osfhealthcare.org/blog/what-are-the-health-benefits-of-magnesium/

  3. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/

  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-potassium

  5. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/copper#:~:text=Copper%20is%20a%20mineral%20that,can%20damage%20cells%20and%20DNA.

  6. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Copper-HealthProfessional/

  7. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/phosphorus

  8. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/phosphorus

  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/calcium-supplements/art-20047097

  10. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

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