Maybe it’s my competitive nature, but there’s nothing like being able to say, “I told you so.” And in the 20 years that I’ve been writing Health & Healing, I’ve had several opportunities to do just that.
In the example below, I told readers about how the mineral potassium benefits blood pressure. And I wrote this story two years before The New York Times ran a similar article. Here is the copy that appeared in the June 1999 issue. (The core concept of this story remains unchanged; however, my recommendations have been updated to reflect the most recent science and what’s working here at the Whitaker Wellness Institute.)
Lower Your Blood Pressure with the “K Factor”
“A banana a day keeps the doctor away.”
Everybody knows that regular consumption of apples is good for your health, but bananas? Well, according to a recent study, eating bananas may bring down your blood pressure.
In this study, carried out at Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, India, people who ate two bananas daily for one week had a 10 percent drop in their blood pressure levels. It has been suggested that bananas may contain compounds similar to ACE inhibitors (another class of drugs that conventional doctors often prescribe to lower blood pressure). But even more important, bananas are an exceptionally rich source of potassium.
Potassium Benefits Include Fewer Strokes, Heart and Kidney Problems
Potassium plays a key role in balancing levels of sodium and other important minerals that are linked to high blood pressure.
Richard D. Moore, M.D., Ph.D., has studied the potassium-hypertension connection for many years and is a leading expert on the subject. In his excellent book, The High Blood Pressure Solution: Natural Prevention and Cure with the K Factor ("K" is the chemical symbol for potassium), Dr. Moore demonstrates how eating according to the "K Factor"—defined as a sodium-to-potassium ratio of at least 1 to 4—can protect against hypertension, crippling strokes and premature death.
Eating foods high in potassium and low in sodium can also help prevent kidney disease and heart problems caused by hypertension. Furthermore, potassium benefits your health by reducing risk of stroke and premature death—even if blood pressure doesn’t fall.
In a 1998 study conducted by Dr. Alberto Ascherio at Harvard Medical School, 43,738 men, aged 40 to 75, were followed for eight years, during which time there were 328 documented strokes in the group. Dr. Ascherio and his colleagues found that the men with hypertension were 2.8 times as likely to have a stroke as those with normal blood pressure—an expected finding.
However, they also discovered that a high intake of potassium protected men from stroke—those with the lowest consumption of potassium (2.4 g per day) had a significantly increased risk of stroke when compared to men with the highest potassium intake (4.3 g). In a similar study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that an average daily increase of only 390 mg of potassium decreased the risk of stroke by 40 percent over 12 years, regardless of blood pressure.
Increase Your Potassium Benefits with Fruits and Vegetables
Folks, this concept isn’t new. In 1904, in a medical history published in the Archives of General Medicine, patients with hypertension successfully lowered their blood pressure levels simply by increasing their consumption of potassium-rich foods while reducing their use of table salt. Yet despite numerous clinical trials since then which have shown the benefits of potassium, conventional physicians stubbornly continue to focus on sodium alone.
The easiest way to enjoy the potassium benefits is to eat lots of vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruit. These wholesome foods naturally have an excellent sodium-to-potassium ratio of at least 1:50—and many fruits, such as bananas (1:440) and oranges (1:260), are much higher.
By replacing processed foods, restaurant fare and other high-salt foods with plant foods, you can bring your blood pressure under control and improve your overall health—without resorting to diuretics and other drugs that further deplete your body of potassium and other essential minerals.
Recommendations for High Blood Pressure
- Reduce your intake of processed/restaurant foods. These items are notoriously high in sodium. For instance, one Big Mac has 1,070 mg of sodium and a one-cup serving of regular canned soup contains approximately 800 mg.
- Eat a sodium-to-potassium ratio of at least 1 to 4. You’ll need to read nutritional labels for this step. Let’s say you eat that Big Mac (not that I’m recommending this option) that has around 1,000 mg of sodium. You’d need to eat 4,000 mg of potassium to keep your ratios balanced.
- Eat more potassium-rich foods. A better idea is to consume foods that are good sources of potassium. Some good examples include a tomato (444 mg) and avocado (680 mg) salad, 3 ounces of chicken (350 mg), a potato (782 mg), an apple (182 mg), and a banana (440 mg).
- Use a potassium-salt combo in place of regular table salt. We’ve been doing this at the Whitaker Wellness Institute for years. In place of regular salt, we mix three parts potassium chloride (Nu-Salt or Morton’s Salt Substitute) with one part sodium chloride (table salt). (Potassium chloride by itself has a metallic taste to some people. However, with this mixture--which provides a substantial amount of potassium--few people can tell the difference.)
- Incorporate healthy habits, such as a regular exercise program, 12 eight-ounce glasses of water per day (build up to this gradually and consult with your doctor if you have kidney problems or congestive heart failure), techniques to manage stress, and a comprehensive high-dose vitamin and mineral regimen.