Potassium intake, blood pressure and hypertension

Potassium intake and blood pressure

High dietary potassium (K+) intakes and blood pressure are inversely related: animal studies, observational epidemiological studies, clinical trials, and meta-analyses of these trials support this.
Furthermore, the prevalence of hypertension tends to be lower in populations with high K+ intakes than in those with low intakes.
Finally, an increase in potassium intake (2.5-3.9 g/d) reduces blood pressure in normotensive and hypertensive, and to a greater extent in blacks than in whites.

Dash Diet and potassium intake

Controlled feeding studies (“The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Study” and “OmniHeart Trial”) have highlighted the role of a good potassium intake, along with other minerals and fiber, in blood pressure reduction.
These studies have shown that a dietary pattern rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, with whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts but poor in fats, red meat, sweets, and sugar-containing beverages reduces blood pressure.
These dietary patterns are rich in foods high in K+, as well as magnesium, calcium and fiber, but poor in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
The best result on lowering blood pressure are with black participants than white participants.

Potassium, sodium and blood pressure

The effects of potassium on blood pressure depend on the concurrent intake of sodium and vice versa:

  • an increased intake of K+ has:

a greater blood pressure-lowering effect when sodium intake is high;

a lesser blood pressure-lowering effect when sodium intake is low;

  • on the other hand, the blood pressure reduction from a lowered sodium intake is greatest when potassium intake is low.

An high K+ intake also increases urinary excretion of sodium, the so-called natriuretic effect.
In the generally healthy population with normal kidney function the recommended potassium intake level is 3.1 g/day. But, in the presence of impaired urinary potassium excretion, a K+ intake less than 3.1 g/day (120 mmol/d) is appropriate, because of adverse cardiac effects (arrhythmias) from hyperkalemia, that is, blood potassium level higher than normal.

Mediterranean Diet and potassium intake

Potassium
Fig. 1 – Fruit, Vegetables, and Blood Pressure

As already pointed out, the best strategy to increase K+ intake is to consume legumes, and fruits and vegetables in season, i.e. foods high in  potassium, that is also accompanied by a variety of other nutrients. No supplements are needed.
Therefore, it is sufficient to follow a  Mediterranean dietary pattern, for:

  • meet the daily requirements of the mineral;
  • consume K+ intake in adequate amounts to ensure its blood pressure-lowering effect.

Potassium content in some foods

High content: >250 mg/100 g of product

  • Dried legumes (chickpeas, beans, lentils, peas and soybeans) and fresh beans;
  • garlic, chard, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, cardoons, fennel, mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, zucchini;
  • avocados, apricots, bananas, fresh and dried chestnuts, watermelon, kiwi, melon, hazelnuts;
  • sweet dried fruits (apricots, dates, figs, prunes, raisins etc..) and oily dried fruits (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, etc.);
  • oat flour, whole wheat flour and spelt;
  • ketchup;
  • roasted coffee;
  • milk powder (also rich sodium);
  • yeast;
  • cocoa powder.

Medium content: 150-250 mg/100 g of product

  • asparagus, beets, carrots, chicory, green beans, fresh broad beans, endive, lettuce, peppers, fresh peas, tomatoes, leeks, radishes, celery, tomato and carrot juice, pumpkin;
  • pineapple, oranges, raspberries, blueberries, loquats, pears, peaches, grapefruit, grapes;
  • meat and fish products, both fresh and preserved (the latter, however, should be avoided because of their high sodium content).

Note: cooking methods tend to reduce the K+ content of the food.
To reduce potassium loss, avoid boiling in plenty of water, for more than an hour, vegetables cut into small pieces (this increases the “exchange area” with water).

References

Appel L.J., Brands M.W., Daniels S.R., Karanja N., Elmer P.J. and Sacks F.M. Dietary Approaches to Prevent and Treat Hypertension: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Hypertension 2006;47:296-08 [Abstract]

Cappuccio F.P. and MacGregor G.A. Does potassium supplementation lower blood pressure? A metaanalysis of published trials. J Hyperten 1991;9:465-73 [Abstract]

Geleijnse J.M., Witteman J.C., den Breeijen J.H., Hofman A., de Jong P., Pols H.A. and Grobbee D.E. Dietary electrolyte intake and blood pressure in older subjects: the Rotterdam Study. J Hyperten 1996;14:73741 [Abstract]

Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S.: “Krause’s foods, nutrition, and diet therapy” 10th ed. 2000

Matlou S.M., Isles C.G. and Higgs A. Potassium supplementation in Blacks with mild to moderate essential hypertension. J Hyperten 1986;4:61-4  [Abstract]

Nutrient Data Home (USDA)

Pickering T.G. New Guidelines on Diet and Blood Pressure. Hypertension 2006;47:135-6 [Full text]

Rose G. Desirability of changing potassium intake in the community. In: Whelton P.K., Whelton A.K. and Walker W.G. eds. Potassium in cardiovascular and renal disease. Marcel Dekker, New York 1986;411-16

Shils M.E., Olson J.A., Shike M., Ross A.C. “Modern nutrition in health and disease” 9th ed., by Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999

Tabelle di composizione degli alimenti; aggiornamento 2000. I.N.R.A.N.

Writing Group of the PREMIER Collaborative Research Group. Effects of Comprehensive Lifestyle Modification on Blood Pressure Control: Main Results of the PREMIER Clinical Trial. JAMA 2003;289:2083-2093 [Abstract]

World Health Organization, International Society of Hypertension Writing Group. 2003 World Health Organization (WHO)/International Society of Hypertension (ISH) statement on management of hypertension. Guidelines and recommendations. J Hyperten 2003;21:1983-92. [Abstract]

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