It is well established that foods with a high potassium sodium ratio affect blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Multiple studies have confirmed the effect. But it is difficult to be sure that potassium alone, or in combination with other factors, is responsible for the effect, until the physiological mechanism producing the effect has been worked out. A recent study (1) provides insight into the mechanism in mild hypertension.
Pathophysiology (What Goes Wrong)
For hypertension, the pathophysiological mechanism has been well worked out at the level of the organism, and at the level of the systems of the organism. However, the cellular details involved in hypertension are not fully known.
For some of the other cardiovascular effects and for osteoporosis, details of the effects on human systems, organs, tissues, and cells are still lacking. To work out these details, smaller human studies, as well as animal and cell culture studies are being done.
Recent Study Of Mild Hypertension
A recent study involved 42 untreated mildly hypertensive patients. It attempted to determine the effects of potassium supplements on the cells that line blood vessels, on the left ventricle of the heart, and on bone turnover. The two supplements studied were potassium chloride and potassium bicarbonate.
The researchers found that potassium in either form helped the blood vessel cells to function better, and the left ventricle of the heart to function better during its resting phase (when blood flows through the lungs back into the heart). To study osteoporosis, the researchers used a molecular marker that increases with bone loss. This marker improved on potassium bicarbonate.
However, despite these cellular improvements, they found no change in blood pressure measured in the office. The researchers relate that they only had a 50% chance of showing a blood pressure change. Two possible reasons are the small number of participants in the study and/or the fact that the participants had only mild hypertension. When the potassium sodium ratio is changed, the blood pressure change is not as great in mild hypertensives as it is in those with worse hypertension.
It is very helpful that the researchers reported how much sodium and potassium the participants consumed. The daily potassium sodium ratio in the participants was 1.11 before starting the study. This was higher than the average Westerner who usually has a ratio of 0.6 to 0.7. It was raised to 2.00 during the study.
Our Cells Function Better Even Before Blood Pressure Improves
So although the change in potassium sodium ratio was not enough to change the blood pressure, it did change how the heart functioned, how blood vessel cells functioned, and how bone cells functioned. This study adds insight into how favorable health effects can occur from changes in the potassium sodium ratio even when there is no change in blood pressure. Changes in the ratio change how the cells in our body function.
So hypertension is not the disease. It is only a sign of disease – a cellular disease. But you can affect the disease even if you change your potassium sodium ratio only slightly. Of course, the more you change it, the more you affect the disease.
To Find Tables Of Potassium And Sodium In Food
For tables with potassium and sodium amounts present in specific foods, click the “Links to Food Potassium Tables” tab at the top of this page to find links to posts containing tables of various food categories.
1. Effects of potassium chloride and potassium bicarbonate on endothelial function, cardiovascular risk factors, and bone turnover in mild hypertensives. He FJ, Marciniak M, Carney C, Markandu ND, Anand V, Fraser WD, Dalton RN, Kaski JC, MacGregor GA. Hypertension. 2010 Mar;55(3):681-8. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.109.147488. Epub 2010 Jan 18.