Blood pressure is a topic in medicine that never seems to go away.
You may have already gotten used to the question, “how is your blood pressure?” during your regular check-ups.
It should come as no surprise that your physician keeps asking about your blood pressure. After all, almost half of all adults living in the United States have hypertension or high blood pressure.
Individuals should be empowered to practice healthy lifestyle habits to keep their blood pressure in check or bring it safely down if their blood pressure goes above this target.
Normal blood pressure is typically less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) systolic and less than 80 mmHg diastolic. It is often written as less than 120/80 mmHg.
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, your blood pressure goal is typically less than 130/80 mmHg (although this will vary depending on your individual health circumstances).
Controlling Blood Pressure
Individuals with elevated blood pressure are encouraged to change their dietary habits and engage in exercise.
These interventions are especially important in preventing long-term complications of hypertension.
Uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to:
- Heart disease
- Heart attacks
What if you could prevent becoming diagnosed with hypertension altogether?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives extensive guidance on diet and exercise.
A common dietary habit that is often recommended is sodium restriction. Limiting the amount of salt or sodium can help control blood pressure. However, there is another element that also plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Potassium is one of those elements (pun intended) in the story of controlling blood pressure that demands more attention.
It is recommended to consume about 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium each day. Many individuals consume much less potassium in a given day and thus should try to increase their potassium intake.
This is in contrast to limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day, and ideally less than 1,500 mg.
So why is more potassium better?
This key element is very important in making sure your blood vessels remain relaxed.
The more rigid or constricted your vessels become, the higher your blood pressure will be. Over time, this can damage your vessels and add extra strain on your heart. That is why ensuring that your vessels stay relaxed is important for heart health.
Adequate potassium supplementation will also help prevent muscle cramps when you exercise. After all, exercise is a crucial component of a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Is too much potassium bad?
As with many things, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Elevated blood potassium is called hyperkalemia. If you have healthy kidneys and get your potassium from food, then the risk of hyperkalemia is low.
Hyperkalemia doesn’t show very specific symptoms, especially if it is mild. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider:
- Feeling weak
- Stomach pain
- Feel like fainting
More severe hyperkalemia can lead to abnormal heart rhythms and can even lead to death. It is important to always check with your provider or pharmacist if your potassium supplementation is appropriate.
Hyperkalemia is not common if individuals acquire their potassium from food instead of supplements.
Potassium-rich Food Sources
Many foods are both healthy and rich in potassium:
- Melons like honeydew and cantaloupe
- Citrus fruits like grapefruit* and oranges
- Leafy greens like spinach
- Lima beans
- Certain fish like tuna and halibut
* Note that grapefruit can interfere with some medications; it is always best to ask your doctor or pharmacist if there is an interaction with your medications before consuming grapefruit.
Individuals should be encouraged to consume foods rich in potassium but should also remember that certain foods may also contain high levels of sugar; this means a healthy balance should be maintained.
Are potassium supplements right for you? Becoming overwhelmed with food choices is not surprising. An over-the-counter potassium supplement may be an option for some patients.
It should be reminded that over-the-counter potassium preparations usually do not contain other healthy nutrients, like vitamins. Individuals should be encouraged to get their potassium from food sources for the additive benefits of consuming other beneficial elements like magnesium or phosphorus, or vitamins, like vitamin C or vitamin D.
Supplements are typically only used when a person’s potassium is very low. If your potassium is mildly low or on the lower end of normal, food should be the primary potassium source.
Supplements may also cause hyperkalemia if mixed with certain medications. Therefore, before starting any potassium supplement or increasing your intake, check with your primary healthcare provider first as it may not be appropriate for every person depending on your individual health circumstances.
Potassium and Medications
Certain medications can raise potassium. If someone is taking medications that increase potassium and begin implementing a potassium-rich diet or start taking potassium supplements, they run the risk of experiencing hyperkalemia.
The most common medications that raise potassium include:
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
- These typically have names that end with the signature –pril.
- Examples include lisinopril, enalapril, fosinopril, and many others.
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB).
- These typically have names that end with the signature –sartan.
- Examples include losartan, valsartan, olmesartan, and many others.
- Mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (MRA), like spironolactone and eplerenone.
- Potassium-sparing diuretics, like triamterene and amiloride.
You may also be taking certain medications that can lower your potassium, such as:
Always ask your physician or your pharmacist about what medications are safe to take to avoid too much or too little potassium.
Controlling blood pressure has great health benefits.
You can take some easy steps today, such as limiting your salt intake and increasing your exercise to keep your heart healthy and lower the risk of high blood pressure.
Ensuring you have enough potassium in your diet is another non-drug way you can support a healthy heart. But remember, you need to speak with you healthcare provider before starting any potassium supplements or increasing your intake to make sure it is safe for you.
- Facts About Hypertension. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated September 8, 2020. Accessed October 6, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm
- High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated May 19, 2020. Accessed October 6, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm
- Prevent High Blood Pressure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated February 24, 2020. Accessed October 6, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/prevent.htm
- How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association. Updated October 31, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2020. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/how-potassium-can-help-control-high-blood-pressure
- Potassium Lowers Blood Pressure. Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Medical School. July 2005. Updated January 23, 2017. Accessed October 6, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/potassium-lowers-blood-pressure
- Hyperkalemia (High Potassium). American Heart Association. Updated October 31, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2020. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/treatment-options-for-heart-failure/hyperkalemia-high-potassium
- Types of Blood Pressure Medications. American Heart Association. Updated October 31, 2017. Accessed October 6, 2020 https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/types-of-blood-pressure-medications
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