Potassium is far more than a major mineral; it is a direct influencer of cardiovascular function and heart health.
The Rise of Heart Attacks
The dietary changes that accompanied the industrial revolution were marked by an increase in convenient, processed foods which replaced potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. As a result of these changes in diet, we saw a rise in cardiovascular disease. While most of the attention has been given to the abundance of sodium from processed foods, perhaps the more important factor is the decline in dietary potassium. Without a doubt, optimizing the potassium: sodium ratio is important when considering most risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but perhaps we have been too focused on the wrong side of this ratio, or at the very least, neglected to give equal attention to potassium.
Nearly 50 percent of all sudden cardiac deaths are due to ventricular tachyarrhythmias, and hypokalemia (potassium deficiency) is a well-recognized risk factor for ventricular tachyarrhythmia and arrhythmia. Potassium deficiency or hypokalemia is also associated with a worsening of heart failure by up to 54 percent. In a prospective population study published in 2018 in the American Journal of Medicine, mild hypokalemia was associated with increased systolic blood pressure, increased stroke risk and, to a lesser degree, increased mortality risk.
Other Causes of Potassium Deficiency
Besides dietary insufficiency, other common causes for hypokalemia include the use of diuretics (such as Lasix and also nonpharmaceutical diuretics such as caffeine).
While we all seem to understand how chronic stress might lead to heart attack, did you also realize that chronic stress and the effects on the endocrine system can cause low potassium? This decrease in potassium (and magnesium) causes a delay in myocardial repolarization, changes on the EKG and raises the propensity for supraventricular and ventricular arrhythmias.
To Supplement or Not?
It is well-known that supplementary potassium can carry the risks of fatal heart arrhythmias if too much is taken; however, dietary potassium is safe for both preventing and improving risks for hypokalemia-driven cardiovascular risks. The best way to maintain a healthy level of potassium is through the consumption of more fresh fruits and vegetables. (Canned and frozen alternatives do not supply the same degree of potassium.)
Nearly everyone is aware that potatoes and bananas are noteworthy sources of potassium, but their high glycemic index does not always make them the best choice for increasing dietary potassium, especially for those seeking to better manage blood sugar, or on a Keto or Paleo diet. Other significant dietary sources of potassium include dark green leafy vegetables and spices such as fresh parsley and cilantro. Red and green sweet peppers, beet greens, cabbage, spinach, and Swiss chard have significant quantities of potassium at more than 500mg/100-gram serving. Additional sources of potassium include bamboo shoots, mushrooms, purslane, kale, mustard greens, tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory greens, winter squash, sweet potatoes, fennel bulb, Brussels sprouts, arugula, and parsnips.
For individuals on-the-go, a greens-based powder blended with banana (if blood sugar is not a concern) is an excellent way to increase dietary potassium.
Dietary potassium must become a chief concern in the fight against cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors such as high blood pressure, vascular health, and chronic stress. As a primary electrolyte, its impact on the electroconductivity of both skeletal and cardiac muscle cannot be underestimated.
The direct association between low potassium and cardiovascular disease is just another reason the diet must be addressed as the foundation for some of our most prevalent chronic health conditions.
Dr. Hoch (pronounced Hoke), is a 1988 Graduate of Peotone High School and a 1990 Graduate of Joliet Junior College. She received both her B.S. in Human Biology (1991) and her Doctorate of Chiropractic (D.C.) (1993) from The National College of Chiropractic in Lombard, IL. She also received her graduate and post-graduate certifications in Acupuncture from NCC.
Credit for this Article goes to Designs For Health