Potas­sium has many health ben­e­fits

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FEATURES - Dr. Gif­ford Jones Dr. W. Gif­ford-Jones is a syn­di­cated colum­nist whose med­i­cal col­umn ap­pears in The Guardian ev­ery Tues­day. Check out his web­site, www.docgiff.com, which pro­vides easy ac­cess to past col­umns and med­i­cal tips.

“There are more ways to con­sume potas­sium than eat­ing a cup of spinach. I’d die for roast beef and pota­toes, both loaded with potas­sium, es­pe­cially when you eat the skin of the potato. You can also get 1,200 mil­ligrams of potas­sium by drink­ing three glasses of milk. A ba­nana con­tains 450 mg and there’s potas­sium in cit­rus fruits, nuts and green leafy veg­eta­bles.”

Can you have too much of any­thing th­ese days?

Surely, by now, you know that you can get too much sugar, too much salt and too many calo­ries, to name a few things. But you can also get into trou­ble by get­ting too lit­tle of some nu­tri­ents. So this week, here’s why potas­sium is so like sex and money.

Paul Whel­ton, pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy at Tu­lane school of pub­lic health in New Or­leans, is an ex­pert on hy­per­ten­sion. He re­ports good news in the Nutri­tion Ac­tion Health Let­ter for those who love to add salt to their food. He claims good ev­i­dence shows that con­sum­ing enough potas­sium may counter the ef­fect of ex­cess salt on blood pres­sure.

In 1997 Whel­ton com­bined the re­search of 29 stud­ies that had ran­domly se­lected peo­ple who got high or low lev­els of potas­sium, pri­mar­ily from sup­ple­ments. The re­sult? He dis­cov­ered a 3 to 5 point re­duc­tion in blood pres­sure in those who had taken a nor­mal potas­sium sup­ple­ment.

But those who re­ceived from 3,500 mil­ligrams (mgs) to 4,700 mg daily in their diet showed a drop of 7 points. As Whel­ton says, “That’s not to be sneezed at as it re­sulted in a 30 per cent de­creased risk of stroke.”

The other sig­nif­i­cant find­ing was that potas­sium had the great­est ef­fect on pa­tients who needed it the most, namely, peo­ple with the high­est blood pres­sure, the el­derly, and oth­ers who were eat­ing a lot of salt.

Dr. Deborah Green, a re­searcher at the Queen’s Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Honolulu, Hawaii, fol­lowed 5,888 men and women ages 65 and over for eight years. She dis­cov­ered that those with low lev­els of potas­sium were twice as likely to suf­fer a stroke due to a blood clot.

There’s more wor­ry­ing news. One of the risks of get­ting older is an ir­reg­u­lar heart rate called au­ric­u­lar fib­ril­la­tion. Pa­tients who suf­fer from this con­di­tion, who are also tak­ing di­uret­ics (wa­ter pills) and have low blood potas­sium, face 10 times the risk of a stroke com­pared to those who have nor­mal heart rhythm, no need for di­uret­ics and nor­mal potas­sium.

So get­ting enough potas­sium from food is the ideal way to ob­tain this min­eral. Whel­ton says that get­ting it from sup­ple­ments is safe as long as you con­sult your doc­tor. This is be­cause pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease can get too much potas­sium. And some drugs can in­ter­fere with the ex­cre­tion of potas­sium.

Bess Daw­son-Hughes, di­rec­tor of the Bone Me­tab­o­lism Lab­o­ra­tory at the Hu­man Nutri­tion Cen­ter on Ag­ing at Tufts Univer­sity in Bos­ton is an au­thor­ity on potas­sium. She re­ports that potas­sium can also help to pre­vent os­teo­poro­sis (brit­tle bones).

Hughes ex­plains that potas­sium rich foods gen­er­ate al­kali and that bone is the great reser­voir for the stor­age of al­kali.

Al­kali is needed to coun­ter­act acid pro­duced by pro­tein rich foods such as meat, poul­try, fish or dairy prod­ucts. She adds that if the body gets more acid than it can ex­crete, it breaks down bone to add al­kali to the sys­tem. If this sit­u­a­tion con­tin­ues over a long pe­riod of time, bone loss can lead to os­teo­poro­sis and frac­tures.

The ar­ti­cle in Nutri­tion Ac­tion re­minded me of a col­umn I’d writ­ten years ago about Dr. David Young, Pro­fes­sor of Phys­i­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Mis­sis­sippi. He hit a home run when he said, “Potas­sium is like sex and money. You can never get too much!”

This is good news for me. Thank God, there are more ways to con­sume potas­sium than eat­ing a cup of spinach. I’d die for roast beef and pota­toes, both loaded with potas­sium, es­pe­cially when you eat the skin of the potato.

You can also get 1,200 mil­ligrams of potas­sium by drink­ing three glasses of milk. A ba­nana con­tains 450 mg and there’s potas­sium in cit­rus fruits, nuts and green leafy veg­eta­bles.

So there’s a mes­sage to all as we start 2016.

While there is so much strife in this world, this is a good time to make love and money, not war.

And don’t for­get the ben­e­fits of potas­sium.

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