Eating the Right Food

Potassium-rich foods cut stroke, death risks among older women




 

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 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, New York.

Researchers studied 90,137 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, for an average 11 years. They looked at how much dietary potassium (not supplements) the women consumed, and if they had 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. The researchers found:

  • Women who ate the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to have stroke in general and 16 percent less likely to have an ischemic stroke than women who ate the least.
  • Women who ate the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who ate the least.
  • Among women whose blood pressure was normal and who were not on 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.
  • Among women whose blood pressure was high or who were on blood pressure medication, those who ate the most potassium had a lower risk of death, but not lower stroke risk.

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 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," she added. Some foods high in potassium are white and sweet potatoes, bananas, spinach, greens, mushrooms, peas, tomatoes (and juice), oranges (and juice), grapefruit (and juice), prunes (and juice), raisins, yogurt, halibut, tuna 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.

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