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At Risk of Having A Stroke - Can Potassium Help?

Updated on April 24, 2013
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Why potassium?

Strokes - or cerebrovascular accident (CVA) - is one of the biggest reasons for disability and death in the Western world. There are a number of things that we can do to reduce our risk of having a stroke and one of the most simplest may be to take more potassium in our diet. The BMJ (British Medical Journal) carried out extensive research on the effects of potassium on heart disease and stroke. Their findings suggest that taking a higher level of potassium in our diet could reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 24%.

Why potassium? Because this mineral helps to reduce blood pressure the leading cause of strokes. Potassium lowers blood pressure by helping to excrete excess sodium (salt) levels from the body. Sodium can cause high blood pressure because the body retains fluid to wash the sodium out. This extra fluid puts increased pressure on the heart and blood vessels.

However, it should be made clear that people who have kidney problems should not take potassium unless directed or under the supervision of a doctor. In addition, although this mineral does have essential health benefits, taking very high volumes could lead to toxicity.


We'll have a brief look at this mineral and it's connection to blood pressure reduction. We'll also look at the healthiest and easiest ways to take potassium in your diet.

Bananas are one of the best sources of natural potassium.
Bananas are one of the best sources of natural potassium. | Source

Strokes and high blood pressure

A stroke is when, either due to a blockage or bleeding, cells die or become badly damaged. This happens because a stroke blocks off oxygen and nutrients vital for all cells to survive.

One of the major causes of stroke is high blood pressure - known medically as hypertension. The force exerted against a blood vessel wall by the blood as it's pumped through the cardiovascular system is the blood pressure. For the most part the cause of hypertension is unknown but there are some conditions that are known to cause it such as kidney disease or hormone problems. However, there are also certain factors that seem to contribute to high blood pressure - for example obesity.

The problem with high blood pressure is that it often produces no symptoms and so a person can be suffering from this condition for many years without realising it. Having high blood pressure over a long period of time can damage blood vessels. When this happens it can lead to heart disease, kidney disease or strokes.

Therefore, the more we can do to try and ensure that our blood pressure lies within as normal a range as possible the better.

What does potassium do?

The mineral potassium carries out a number of essential functions within the human body:

  • It maintains the normal activity of muscles and nerves - including those of the major organs such as the heart.
  • Maintains osmotic pressure within body cells and helps to get rid of excess sodium.
  • Assists with the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates in body cells.
  • Potassium is also an electrolyte which means it conducts electricity in the body. Other electrolytes include - chloride, calcium, sodium and magnesium. Electrolytes are needed to give electrical charges for the proper working of, for example, the heart, other muscles and nerves.


In medical research carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has shown that ensuring a healthy intake of potassium can reduce the risk of having a stroke.

According to NHS UK, they found the WHO results interesting but also cautioned against people increasing potassium over the normal limit. The reason for this is that research showed taking very high amounts of potassium didn't decrease the risks. Secondly, due to the potential harmful effects of potassium, people need to be vigilant about the amount they are taking daily and shouldn't go to extremes. However, people who have a nutritious diet with foods containing potassium showed a reduced risk of stroke by 24%.

Other medical research carried out at The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, did so with people over an extended period of time. Their results seemed to conclude that taking an increase of around 1000mg per day of potassium reduced the risk of ischaemic stroke by about 11%. An ischaemic stroke is where a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked, leading to damage and death of brain cells beyond the blockage where blood can't enter. The research however, also showed that increasing potassium intake had no effect on another type of stroke caused by bleeding into the brain - haemorrhagic stroke.

The results from all the research carried out is very interesting and seems to suggest a strong probability that ensuring we have good levels of potassium in our daily diet, could go a long way to protecting us from both high blood pressure and some forms of stroke.

So what foods should we be eating to ensure we get our recommended daily intake of potassium?


avocadoes have a higher level of potassium than even bananas.
avocadoes have a higher level of potassium than even bananas. | Source

Potassium in the diet

Prior to this hub did you know that potassium was one of the essential minerals we should have in our diet?

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Natural sources of potassium

There are many nutritious foods that are good sources of potassium. As a guideline, the following amounts of potassium daily are recommended:

  • Adults and young people over the age of 13 years - approximately 4700mg per day.
  • For children younger than 13 years the intake varies by age and its best to speak to a doctor, pharmacist or other health professional for advice on potassium intake.

Research carried out in the USA found the most people don't get enough potassium with the diet they are on. They found that men only manage to get around 3100mg and women about 2300mg per day.

There are a large number of foods that contain potassium, below is a list of the most common:

  • Bananas - this is best known high-potassium food.
  • Avocados - have more potassium than bananas.
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Red meat
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Lentils


As we can see there are plenty of common everyday foods that contain all the potassium we need. Having a balanced diet is the best way to ensure that you take the levels needed for general health and as an aid to prevent high blood pressure and by extension strokes.

However, if you do have an existing illness such as problems with your kidneys, or taking certain medications, then you must speak to your doctor before trying to increase your potassium intake. Although potassium is essential for health, too much can cause toxicity in the body.

Comments

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  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Alicia, lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub. I was very surprised at the list of benefits as well. I knew potassium was good for a couple of things, but not as extensive as it has shown.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    The health benefits of potassium are impressive! Thanks for sharing them, Seeker7. The list of foods containing potassium is very useful, too.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rasma, many thanks as always for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub. I was also surprised at how many benefits potassium had and also that it could help to prevent strokes and yes, there are so many great tasting foods that have potassium in, so it's not hard work get the daily dose!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Tom, lovely to hear from you and I hope things are well with you!

    Glad you enjoyed the hub my friend and that you found it useful - greatly appreciated!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Frank - as always lovely to hear from you.

    I agree, the older we get the more at risk we are of so many things - what great things we have to look forward to!! LOL!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi MT - lovely to hear from you - hope things are well with you and yours?

    Glad that you enjoyed the hub and found the information useful. It seems as if us ladies in particular need to take more potassium than we are at present, so the list of foods has helped me as well!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi gags3480, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub - also for the 100 marks! LOL!

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 

    5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

    Voted up and useful. Thanks for this informative and important hub. Didn't know there were so many benefits to potassium but I'm glad to know it is in a great deal of my favorite foods. Passing this on.

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    5 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi my friend great informative article with very useful information within it. Well done !

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 

    5 years ago from Shelton

    again I can easily read your hubs.. it is very important to watch and control what you eat inorder to become at risk for having a stroke.. I guess the older we become the more valuable these hubs are bless you :)

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 

    5 years ago from Minnesota

    Wonderful information on the importance of potassium.I also appreciated the list of foods that contain potassium so I can be sure I'm getting the proper amount. Great article~voted up and hit many buttons.

  • gags3480 profile image

    GAGANPREET SINGH BHATIA 

    5 years ago from Kanpur, India

    Very well written & very useful hub. 100 marks for this hub.

    Voted up & shared.

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