Touted as a “silent killer” by the American Heart Association, some 85 million Americans – or one out of every three adults – suffer from high blood pressure. Since there are usually no obvious symptoms, nearly 20 percent of these people don’t even know they have blood pressure issues.
If left untreated, high blood pressure (also called hypertension) can be dangerous and cause damage to your body in many ways, raising the risk for cardiovascular diseases such heart attack and stroke. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hypertension is the leading cause of an estimated 51 percent of deaths due to stroke and 45 percent of deaths caused by heart disease. But there is hope to improve these numbers, and it isn’t coming from the pharmaceutical world. Instead, the answer can be found in the produce section of your local grocery store. (RELATED: Find more info about how to protect your heart at Heart.news.)
High blood pressure is often a result of unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits. While there is no magic cure to treat hypertension, making some simple dietary changes can help reduce, or even eliminate, your need for prescription drugs and help you live a long, healthy life.
Too much sodium in the diet has always been a blood pressure malefactor. While limiting the amount of salt used at meal times will have a tremendous effect on balancing blood pressure levels, new research has found that eating potassium-rich vegetables and fruits could be effective in lowering blood pressure naturally.
“Decreasing sodium intake is a well-established way to lower blood pressure,” said Alicia McDonough, Ph.D., professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. “But evidence suggests that increasing dietary potassium may have an equally important effect on hypertension,” she added.
The importance of the sodium-potassium ratio
For the review study, McDonough delved into the literature to explore the possible effect of sodium and potassium on hypertension. The report, published in the April 2017 issue of the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, looked at previous population, interventional studies and molecular mechanism studies.
McDonough found that, regardless of the level of sodium intake, a higher intake of potassium was generally associated with lower blood pressure. Furthermore, some studies showed that not only is potassium crucial, but the sodium-potassium ratio also plays a significant role.
As it seems, our body uses sodium to control potassium levels in the blood. Proper potassium levels in the blood are essential to a normal heart, nerve, and muscle function. McDonough explained that when dietary potassium is high, the kidneys excrete more sodium and water, adding that eating a high potassium diet is like taking a diuretic. In conclusion, McDonough said that potassium is vital for keeping blood pressure stable. Though sodium is still an important factor, reducing salt intake alone may not be enough to control hypertension.
Standard American Diet (SAD) wreaking havoc on your system
Over the centuries our diet has changed tremendously. Our early ancestors relied on a diet high in fruits, root vegetables, beans, and grains. These foods are all high in potassium and very low in sodium. As a result, humans evolved to craving salty foods, according to McDonough. Hence why processed food companies add so much salt to their products. While being high in sodium, these convenient foods are also very low in potassium, which increases your chances of hypertension.
When potassium levels are limited, your body will use sodium retention to hold on to potassium, which can be compared to eating a high sodium diet, McDonough explained. As recommended by a 2004 Institute of Medicine study, adults should consume at least 4.7 grams of potassium a day to keep blood pressure in check and prevent sodium retention, kidney stones, or bone loss.
Foods rich in potassium include bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, spinach, beans, and coffee. Because potassium is so important to our body, McDonough recommends policy makers help increase global potassium levels through plant-based foods, and add potassium values to food labels to help the public make better decisions.