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Potassium is a key mineral in our body. It helps regulate processes that affect our blood pressure and kidneys. Potassium helps balance the negative effects of sodium, which causes high blood pressure. Our kidneys help in blood pressure control, since they are involved in regulating the amount of fluid stored in our body. An increase in fluid (excess) causes blood pressure to increase. This in turn affects the heart, which has to pump harder, which in turn leads to it becoming enlarged and thickened to cope with the increasing demand.

The kidneys filter our blood and remove extra fluid and waste products which are sent to the bladder to be excreted as urine. The potassium and sodium ions, help water molecules cross cell walls into the blood stream in a delicate finely balanced process. Excess amounts of salt hinder this balance and prevents the kidneys in removing water efficiently. In dealing with high blood pressure, we tend to focus on the negative effects of sodium and the need for reducing or regulating dietary sodium. However, potassium as a nutrient in this process tends to be ignored. Our body uses potassium for various cellular functions, as well as breaking down carbohydrates to release energy that the body needs.

We need 4700 mg of potassium on a daily basis. Dietary potassium intake tends to vary on a daily basis depending on the types of food we consume. Once digested by the body, other factors like metabolism and sodium play a role in how well potassium is utilized. However, a diet that contains a good amount of this mineral helps to negate the negative effects of excess sodium. Sometimes a lack of dietary potassium could be the cause of elevated blood pressure levels. 

Does blood pressure medication help?

Blood pressure medications help remove excess salt from the body and the calcium channel blockers, stop calcium from entering into cells. This helps relax blood vessels. However, taking a tablet, while not reducing the amount of salt in the diet will not help remove this issue from the root cause. In the same way, taking potassium supplements can be harmful if not prescribed. Foods rich in potassium are safer.

Sources include:
•    Fish (tuna)
•    Low fat dairy products (provides both calcium and potassium)
•    Cooked beans and lentils
•    Beetroot leaves
•    Spinach
•    Potato
•    Sweet potato
•    Mushrooms
•    Dry fruits- Dates and Fig
•    Guava
•    Banana
•    Avocado
•    Orange juice

Eating a potassium rich diet is like taking a diuretic. It helps excrete excess amounts of salt and water. When we do not consume enough our body regulates how much potassium we use. This balancing act eventually uses sodium retention as a way of holding on to potassium, which means there will be higher sodium levels in the body. 

In addition, it is also important that one focuses on lowering the amount of sodium consumed. This involves steering clear of packaged foods like chips, namkeens, bread, ready to eat foods and snacks.  By following the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) one can eat healthier. Some of the recommendations include- eating a good amount of fresh fruit and vegetable while limiting salt intake to just a tsp. a day. This translates to 2300 mg of sodium and not more. 

While using potassium to lower blood pressure, it is also important that one follows other healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercise. This can be done under the supervision of your health care provider.

With inputs from:
5.    McDonough AA, Nguyen MTX. How does potassium supplementation lower blood pressure? American Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology. 2012;302(9):F1224-F1225. doi:10.1152/ajprenal.00429.2011.
7.    Dietary sodium and potassium in the genesis, therapy, and prevention of hypertension.
8.    Haddy FJ.J Am Coll Nutr. 1987 Jun; 6(3):261-70.
12.    American Society of Nephrology. "Low Potassium Linked To High Blood Pressure." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2008

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