Cutting out salt is generally recommended as the way to lower blood pressure but eating foods rich in potassium helps as well, a medical expert has revealed.
“Potassium is the forgotten weapon in the fight against high blood pressure,” said Dr. Chauncey Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant programme at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla in the United States, U.S.
These are the findings in a study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism.
A consultant cardiologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Idi Araba and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Lagos, Dr. Amam Mbakwem, has expressed worry about the growing incidence of hypertensive disorders in Nigeria, warning that currently, no less than 40 percent of adults in the country are hypertensive.
Mbakwem, who is also Vice President, Nigerian Cardiac Society and affiliate member, European Society of Cardiology Working Group on Peripartum Cardiomyopathy, lamented that hypertension in Nigeria has gone from 11 per cent to 20 per cent, saying that now, we are talking about 40 per cent.
What this means is that in every 10 Nigerian adults, there is a possibility that four of them have high blood pressure.
“Potassium is a very important mineral for heart health, but its importance when it comes to regulating high blood pressure is often overlooked,” said Crandall.
Potassium is a chemical (electrolyte) that is critical to the proper functioning of nerve and muscles cells, particularly heart muscle cells.
Researchers from the University of Southern California-Los Angeles reviewed more than 70 studies related to dietary approaches for high blood pressure regulation.
According to the researchers, when potassium intake is higher, the kidneys signal the body to reduce the amount of sodium that is retained.
When dietary potassium intake is elevated, the kidneys –containing millions of small tubes working together – shift fluid to the area near the end of the tubes where potassium is secreted, they noted.
This shift reduces the amount of sodium and water that’s reabsorbed into the body. In this way, high potassium diet signals the body to reduce the amount of sodium that is retained.
This circular pattern regulates the levels of both minerals in the body, which in turn also lowers blood pressure, the researchers said of their study, However, Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report, urged people with kidney problems to first discuss this strategy with their doctor, especially if they are considering potassium supplements.
“You can increase potassium but you have to be careful, because too much can be dangerous for people with kidney disease, or whose kidneys aren’t working well,” said Crandall.
“People considering potassium supplements should undergo a kidney function test first,” he added.
Also, boosting potassium shouldn’t be relied upon alone – salt restriction is still important, especially for people diagnosed with high blood pressure, said Crandall.
He also recommended taking magnesium, which is a mineral, for blood pressure reduction.
“Magnesium can also lower blood pressure. It’s a muscle relaxant, which can also be a powerful aid in blood pressure reduction,” he said.
Too often, doctors don’t discuss potassium or magnesium – they go straight to medication.
“Historically, it’s hard to get people to change their dietary patterns,” noted Crandall. Many of the same foods that are high in potassium are also rich in magnesium, he notes.
Vicki Shanta Retelny, a registered dietician and author of “Total Body Diet for Dummies,” listed some potassium- rich foods as Avocados, Potatoes, Spinach, known as ‘Efo Tete’ in Yoruba, Bananas, Pomegranate, among others.
He suggested the following method of consumption: Avocados: Spread a ripe slice of avocado on toast, chop it into salads, or mash it into guacamole.
Potatoes: White and sweet potatoes are packed with potassium. Bake, mash, or roast them.
You can also cook and chop them into salads, drop them into soups, or dice them into vegetables hash.
Spinach: All veggies can boost potassium, but spinach packs an extra big punch, so don’t forget to use lots of this leafy green in salads.
Add in other potassium-rich veggies as well, including tomatoes, cabbage, sprouts, and beans.
Banana: A banana makes a great base for a smoothie, or you can also dip it into chocolate and freeze for a sweet treat.
Pomegranate: Sprinkle pomegranate seeds into fruit or green salads, plain yogurt, or cooked oatmeal.
For a pop, add them to peanut butter toast or roll them into date nut balls for a healthy snacks.