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Nutrition, Vitamins & Supplements for Seniors

Older Women Reduce Stroke, Death Risks with Potassium-Rich Foods

Studied women 50 to 79 over 11 years; women who ate the most potassium were 10% less likely to die


 > The health benefits from potassium-rich foods are greater among older women who do not have high blood pressure.

 > Most older American women do not eat the recommended amounts of potassium from foods.

 > See list of Potassium-Rich Foods in Story

 > More below about Potassium and High Blood Pressure

Sept. 8, 2014 - Postmenopausal women who eat foods higher in potassium are less likely to have strokes and die than women who eat less potassium-rich foods, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.

“Previous studies have shown that potassium consumption may lower blood pressure. But whether potassium intake could prevent stroke or death wasn’t clear,” said Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., study senior author and distinguished university professor emerita, department of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY.

“Our findings give women another reason to eat their fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, and potassium not only lowers postmenopausal women’s risk of stroke, but also death.”

Researchers studied 90,137 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, for an average 11 years. They looked at how much potassium the women consumed, as well as if they had strokes, including ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, or died during the study period. Women in the study were stroke-free at the start and their average dietary potassium intake was 2,611 mg/day. Results of this study are based on potassium from food, not supplements.


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The researchers found:

Women who ate the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to suffer stroke in general and 16 percent less likely to suffer an ischemic stroke than women who ate the least.

Women who ate the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die than those who ate the least.

Among women who did not have hypertension (whose blood pressure was normal and they were not on any medications for high blood pressure),  those who ate the most potassium had a 27 percent lower ischemic stroke risk and 21 percent reduced risk for all stroke types, compared to women who ate the least potassium in their daily diets.

Among women with hypertension (whose blood pressure was high or they were taking drugs for high blood pressure), those who ate the most potassium had a lower risk of death, but potassium intake did not lower their stroke risk.

Researchers suggested that higher dietary potassium intake may be more beneficial before high blood pressure develops. They also said there was no evidence of any association between potassium intake and hemorrhagic stroke, which could be related to the low number of hemorrhagic strokes in the study.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women eat at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily. “Only 2.8 percent of women in our study met or exceeded this level. The World Health Organization’s daily potassium recommendation for women is lower, at 3,510 mg or more. Still, only 16.6 percent of women we studied met or exceeded that,” said Wassertheil-Smoller.

“Our findings suggest that women need to eat more potassium-rich foods. You won’t find high potassium in junk food. Some foods high in potassium include white and sweet potatoes, bananas and white beans.”

While increasing potassium intake is probably a good idea for most older women, there are some people who have too much potassium in their blood, which can be dangerous to the heart. “People should check with their doctor about how much potassium they should eat,” she said.

The study was observational and included only postmenopausal women. Researchers also did not take sodium intake into consideration, so the potential importance of a balance between sodium and potassium is not among the findings. Researchers said more studies are needed to determine whether potassium has the same effects on men and younger people.

First author is Arjun Seth, B.S. and other co-authors are:Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, Ph.D.; Victor Kamensky, M.S.; Brian Silver, M.D.; Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, M.D.; Ross Prentice, Ph.D.; and Linda Van Horn, Ph.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute funded the study.

Potassium and High Blood Pressure

From American Heart Association, Prevention and Treatment of High Blood Pressure

A diet that includes natural sources of potassium is important in controlling blood pressure because potassium lessens the effects of sodium. The recommended daily intake of potassium for an average adult is about 4,700 milligrams per day.

But potassium should be considered as only part of your total dietary pattern. Factors such as salt intake, amount and type of dietary fat, cholesterol, protein and fiber, as well as minerals such as calcium and magnesium may affect blood pressure. Researchers attribute changes in blood pressure to certain patterns of food consumption.

For example, the D.A.S.H. (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk and milk products, whole grain foods, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and unsalted nuts reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5.5/3.0 mm Hg compared to the control diet (what the average American eats). The D.A.S.H. eating plan also contained less salt and sodium; sweets, added sugars and sugar-containing beverages; fats; and red meats than the typical American diet.

Many of the elements of the D.A.S.H. eating plan --- fruits, vegetables, fat-free or lowfat (1 percent) dairy foods and fish --- are good natural sources of potassium.

 Potassium-rich foods include:

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Potatoes

  • Greens

  • Spinach

  • Mushrooms

  • Lima beans

  • Peas

  • Bananas

  • Tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce (look for low-sodium versions)

  • Oranges and orange juice

  • Cantaloupe and honeydew melon

  • Grapefruit and grapefruit juice (talk to your healthcare provider if you're taking a cholesterol-lowering drug)

  • Prunes and prune juice

  • Apricots and apricot juice

  • Raisins and dates

  • Fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk

  • Fat-free yogurt

  • Halibut

  • Tuna

  • Molasses


Is it possible to have too much potassium?

Too much potassium can be harmful in many older persons and those with kidney disorders. Potassium affects the balance of fluids in the body. As we get older, our kidneys become less able to remove potassium from our blood. Therefore, before taking any over-the-counter potassium supplement, consult your healthcare professional.

You should also ask your doctor before trying salt substitutes, because these contain potassium chloride and may be harmful for people with certain medical conditions.

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