It's More Than Just the Salt
How potassium can help protect against high blood pressure.*
It's old news that sodium is bad for blood pressure, right? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if everyone in America cut their salt intake to less than 1,500mg a day, 16 million cases of high blood pressure would be prevented every year. A large body of research suggests that reducing dietary salt intake reduces blood pressure.
However, a recent Cochrane review of 167 studies concluded that low salt diets resulted in only very small reductions in blood pressure and had negative effects on cholesterol, triglycerides, and other heart disease risk factors. Prior reviews showed that reducing salt didn't decrease the risk of heart disease or of death.
Individuals vary in how they respond to salt. For example, for those who are hypersensitive to salt, cutting intake down would likely improve health outcomes. On the other hand, low sodium diets could also have negative side effects for some people. When salt intake is cut, the body responds by releasing rennin and aldosterone. These chemicals have been shown to increase blood pressure and even insulin resistance in some patients. Salt-sensitivity and hypertension have a lot to do with genetics like so many other health issues, and this means there is variation throughout the human population. This variation means that there might not be one perfect recommendation when it comes to salt intake, and the conflicting research findings support this suggestion.
This doesn't mean you should ignore advice to limit sodium intake — processed foods are typically overloaded with salt — but it seems that there is more to this issue. Newer evidence suggests that dietary potassium plays an important role.
Maybe It's the Golden Ratio
Potassium, an important mineral involved in nerve function and muscle control, works together with sodium to maintain the body's water balance and blood pressure. A higher potassium intake can help prevent hypertension by triggering the kidneys to excrete more sodium from the body. Studies have found that a potassium-to-sodium ratio of 2:1 may lower your risk of death from CVD by a whopping 50 percent.
*NOTE: People with chronic kidney disease (CKD) are usually prescribed a diet that is lower in sodium, protein, and phosphorus. Some people with kidney disease may also need to restrict their potassium intake for better health. If you have kidney disease, talk to you doctor about potassium intake before altering your diet.
For most Americans, achieving this ratio requires both lowering sodium intake and boosting potassium intake. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American adult consumes over 3,000mg of sodium daily — more than double the recommended amount. At the same time, surveys show that Americans typically consume less than half the recommended 4,700mg of potassium a day.
A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people with the highest ratio of sodium to potassium in their diet over 15 years had a significantly increased risk of death from CVD compared to those with the lowest ratio.
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