For years, it has been thought that an overabundance of sodium in the diet contributed to heart disease. A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, finds that sodium is not the only culprit. Apparently, potassium also plays an important role, but it is a shortage of potassium, rather than an overabundance that can contribute to heart disease. [Quanhe Yang, et al., "Sodium and Potassium Intake and Mortality Among US Adults"]
The study surveyed a nationally representative group of 12,267 adults in the U. S. and followed up for a period of 14.8 years. There were 2,270 deaths in the group - 825 were attributed to cardiovascular disease, and 443 were due to ischemic heart disease.
After examining the sodium and potassium intake of the subjects, the study concluded that a high consumption of sodium is associated with increased mortality rates in the general public, and a high sodium-potassium ratio significantly increases the risk for heart disease. The authors concluded, “Public health recommendations should emphasize simultaneous reduction in sodium intake and increase in potassium intake.”
Important commentary from Lynn D. Silver, M. D. and Thomas A. Farley, M. D. of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene accompanied the research. They believe that while it is helpful to have sodium information on food labels, it would help consumers if labels also contained information about potassium content.
Dietary guidelines from the USDA recommend limiting sodium consumption to 1,500 mg per day for African Americans, people who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease and those over the age of 51. Generally healthy people and those under 51 years of age should limit sodium consumption to 2,300 mg per day or less. The guidelines also recommend 4,700 mg of potassium per day.
Potassium helps to regulate function of the heart, brain, kidneys and muscles. It sends nerve signals within the body to boost metabolism for conversion of protein, fats and carbohydrates into energy. Individuals deficient in potassium can exhibit a number of symptoms. These can include chills, cognitive confusion, edema, headaches and muscle cramps. Aging adults are especially at risk for potassium deficiency and should closely monitor consumption.
Whole plants can be a good source of potassium and typically have very little sodium. With processed foods however, the reverse is true – these typically contain a high amount of sodium with very little potassium. Good food sources of potassium are: sweet potatoes, tomato paste, potatoes, plain yogurt, halibut, bananas and spinach.
In addition to monitoring the diet for potassium consumption, natural supplements are always a good choice. A daily vitamin and mineral supplement is a great way to guarantee adequate nutrition. Look for one with a high potassium content to promote extra-good health.