Potassium lowers blood pressure – but here's why you need to take it before you have high blood pressure

January 15, 2015
Volume 12    |   Issue 03

If you have high blood pressure, you may know that your risk of having a stroke is much, much higher. So it's not surprising that new research is showing that foods rich in potassium, a known blood-pressure-lowering mineral, will also lower your risk of stroke and death. What is surprising about this research is when you need to take it — and how much you need to take.

We know from past research that eating potassium-rich foods, such as potatoes and bananas, can lower blood pressure. But until now, we didn't know that eating foods high in this mineral could also prevent strokes and death. A recent study published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke found that postmenopausal women who did not have high blood pressure and who ate high-potassium foods were less likely to have strokes and die than women on a low-potassium diet.

There were some benefits for women with high blood pressure, whether or not they were taking drugs to control it — their risk of death was lower too. But their risk of stroke did not change.

A group of researchers conducted this study with 90,137 postmenopausal women, ranging in ages from 50 to 79, over an average of 11 years. The researchers evaluated the women's potassium intake and recorded instances of stroke or death. None of the women had experienced a stroke prior to the study, and they consumed an average of 2,611 mg per day of potassium from food, rather than from supplements.

The women who had the highest levels of potassium intake were 12% less likely to have any type of stroke, 16% less likely to experience an ischemic stroke, and 10% less likely to die than those with the lowest levels.

These benefits increased when women with high potassium intake did not have hypertension — they were 21% less likely to have a stroke in general and 27% less likely to have an ischemic stroke than the women with low potassium levels. This suggests that it's likely best to increase your potassium consumption before you develop high blood pressure.

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, women should eat at least 4,700 mg of potassium a day. Study senior author Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller notes, "Only 2.8% 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% of women we studied met or exceeded that."

Since so few women in the study were meeting these requirements yet still seeing benefits, it's likely that most of us could use more potassium in our diets. However, it is possible to get too much potassium, which can lead to heart problems and death. So start with your diet. Feel free to increase the number of bananas and potatoes (not fried) you eat. In fact, most fruits and vegetables are high in potassium. And you know you can safely add these to your diet. You should talk to your doctor before you begin consciously increasing your potassium levels with high-dose supplements. A safe daily supplement dose is 600-1,200 mg if you're eating a lot of fruits and veggies.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Arjun Seth, Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, Victor Kamensky, Brian Silver, Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, Ross Prentice, Linda Van Horn, and Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller. Potassium Intake and Risk of Stroke in Women With Hypertension and Nonhypertension in the Women’s Health Initiative. Stroke, September 2014 DOI: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.006046.

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