Women who eat bananas, avocados, salmon, and other potassium-rich foods can reduce the negative effects of salt in the diet and improve their heart health, a study done by the European Society of Cardiology found.
“It is well known that high salt consumption is associated with elevated blood pressure and a raised risk of heart attacks and strokes,” said study author Liffert Vogt of Amsterdam University Medical Centers, the Netherlands. “Health advice has focused on limiting salt intake but this is difficult to achieve when our diets include processed foods.
“In our study, dietary potassium was linked with the greatest health gains in women.”
The study included 24,963 participants, of which 11,276 were men and 13,696 were women. These participants were from the EPIC-Norfolk study, which recruited 40 to 79-year-olds from general practices in Norfolk, UK, between 1993 and 1997.
Participants were told to complete a questionnaire on lifestyle habits, their blood pressure was measured, and a urine sample was collected. Urinary sodium and potassium were used to estimate dietary intake. Participants were divided into tertiles according to sodium intake (low/medium/high) and potassium intake (low/medium/high).
The researchers analyzed the association between potassium intake and blood pressure after adjusting for age, sex, and sodium intake. Potassium consumption (in grams per day) was associated with blood pressure in women — as intake went up, blood pressure went down. When the association was analyzed according to sodium intake (low/medium/high), the relationship between potassium and blood pressure was only observed in women with high sodium intake, where every 1 gram increase in daily potassium was associated with a 2.4 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure. In men, there was no association between potassium and blood pressure.
During a median follow-up of 19.5 years, 13,596 (55%) participants were hospitalized or died due to cardiovascular disease. The researchers analyzed the association between potassium intake and cardiovascular events after adjusting for age, sex, body mass index, sodium intake, diabetes, smoking, alcohol intake, use of lipid-lowering drugs, and prior heart attack or stroke. Overall, people in the highest tertile of potassium intake had a 13% lower risk of cardiovascular events compared to those in the lowest tertile.
“The results suggest that potassium helps preserve heart health, but that women benefit more than men. The relationship between potassium and cardiovascular events was the same regardless of salt intake, suggesting that potassium has other ways of protecting the heart on top of increasing sodium excretion,” said Vogt. “Our findings indicate that a heart-healthy diet goes beyond limiting salt to boosting potassium content. Food companies can help by swapping standard sodium-based salt for a potassium salt alternative in processed foods.”
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