Potassium is vital to keeping your blood pressure at safe, healthy levels.
by Lisa James
It’s called “the silent killer” for a good reason: In too many cases, the first symptom of high blood pressure is death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this condition is a primary or contributing factor in more than 348,000 US deaths every year, playing a role in seven of every 10 first heart attacks and 8 of every 10 first strokes.
Those grim statistics make controlling blood pressure crucial to well-being. That means eating properly, especially getting adequate amounts of the mineral potassium.
Blood pressure readings measure the amount of resistance to blood flow within the arteries. The upper number (systolic) represents pressure when the heart beats, while the lower number (diastolic) represents pressure between beats.
According to the American Heart Association, anything under 120/80 is normal; higher readings indicate the presence of some degree of high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). Symptoms such as nosebleeds, dizzy spells or dull headaches generally don’t develop until pressure reaches dangerous levels.
Excessive pressure harms artery walls, hastening plaque development and raising the risk that a rupture-prone bulge, or aneurysm, will form. Hypertension causes the heart to work harder, which can lead to heart failure. And injured blood vessels within the kidneys or eyes can damage those organs as well.
Blood pressure generally rises with advancing age and hypertension tends to run in families. Excesses in weight, sodium intake and alcohol usage are risk factors, as are smoking and not being active enough. The CDC says nearly a third of all Americans have high blood pressure and only half of those 67 million people have it under control.
Diet is the key to pressure control, especially foods that provide potassium.
Potassium works with sodium and other minerals to help the body maintain proper fluid balance. Too much sodium and/or too little potassium creates an imbalance that causes blood pressure to rise, and a number of studies have linked low potassium intake with higher hypertension risk.
Plant-based foods are the richest sources of potassium. Bananas are well known for providing potassium, and supply fiber and cholesterol-lowering sterols besides. Other foods rich in potassium include parsley, used since ancient times to treat kidney problems; green tea, which has been found to reduce hypertension risk among habitual imbibers; and baobab, the fruit of an African tree that supplies not only potassium but also vitamins B6 and C as well. (These foods are available as whole-food concentrates.)
Potassium-rich produce pairs well with spices and other healthful foods. For example, oregano contains substances that have been found to fight inflammation and support healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. (Origanox provides oregano in a standardized form.) And red wine is known for containing resveratrol (as is the herb Polygonum cuspidatum). In one study resveratrol was able to improve blood flow among overweight people with hypertension (Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases 11/11).
Blood pressure readings tend to creep up with age, sometimes with devastating results. Getting plenty of potassium is one of the best ways to stay in the safe zone.