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Potassium plays a unique role in reducing hypertension


THIRTY MINUTES of brisk exercise, five servings of potassium-rich fruit and vegetables, low-sodium and low-fat food, and a glass of red wine or a small beer everyday help prevent hypertension, according to current medical wisdom.

We all know about sodium being the bad boy of hypertension, but where and how does potassium fit into the picture?

Potassium is a metal that is very similar to sodium in its chemical properties. It is vital for the normal functioning of nerve cells; it helps regulate the acid-base balance and water content of tissues and blood, and it helps in the making of muscle protein from aminos, among many other functions.

Potassium's role in hypertension is actually the result of a complex interplay with sodium, calcium and magnesium found in all living cells and in blood. For example, low levels of potassium cause the body to retain sodium and water, and this can elevate blood pressure. Research suggests that the risk of stroke, a common consequence of high blood pressure, relates inversely with the amount of potassium in the diet, and the lowest risk is among the high-potassium low-sodium group. Apart from hypertension, low potassium levels are linked with heart failure, disorders of heart rhythm, fatigue and depression. Current research suggests we need at least 3500 mg of potassium daily and fruits and vegetables, rather than potassium supplements, are the best sources because they lessen the chances of consuming large and toxic amounts by accident.

Foods rich in potassium are apples, apricots, bananas, beans, broccoli, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, dates, fish, lettuce, mushrooms, potatoes-especially the skin, spinach and tomatoes.

Meat, though high in potassium, contains a lot of saturated fat and sodium. While potassium-rich foods are definitely good for the average healthy person looking to prevent hypertension, doctors advise caution in those who already suffer from high blood pressure and its consequences like heart failure, kidney failure and disorders of heart rhythm. Often these patients are already on drugs that carefully regulate blood volume and the concentration of minerals in the body, and potassium-rich foods can interfere with the treatment. Never take potassium supplements until your physician says so.

RAJIV.M.

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