Is It Worth Cutting Salt and Boosting Potassium?

Cutting down on salt and increasing potassium can safely lower blood pressure by a small amount, research shows. However, it’s less clear whether this reduces the chance of having strokes and other heart and circulation problems.

What do we know already?

If you have high blood pressure, you have a raised risk of several serious health problems, including heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.

Lots of things can affect your blood pressure, including what you eat and drink. Too much salt and too little potassium can both increase your blood pressure. Doctors recommend that people with high blood pressure eat less salt, and they sometimes recommend taking potassium supplements or eating more potassium-rich foods such as bananas, oranges, tomatoes, and pulses.

However, we don’t know for sure how much cutting salt and increasing potassium actually lowers blood pressure, and whether the reduction in blood pressure really reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes. A recent review of studies raised concern that lowering salt might have harmful effects, such as raising cholesterol levels. However, several of the studies in the review lasted only a few days and looked at drastic reductions in salt intake.

Researchers have now done three large reviews of studies to better understand the benefits and risks of making moderate cuts to salt and increasing potassium. The studies lasted for at least four weeks and included people both with and without high blood pressure. Two reviews looked at reducing salt and one at increasing potassium.

What do the new reviews say?

The first review found that people who reduced salt by an average of nearly one teaspoon a day had somewhat lower blood pressure than those who did not. However, people with high blood pressure had a larger drop than those with normal blood pressure. The review found no increase in cholesterol among people who reduced their salt level.

The second review found that cutting down on salt led to a modest drop in blood pressure, with no harmful effects. This review also showed that people who ate less salt had a lower risk of having a stroke and of dying from a stroke or heart disease.

In the third review, people who increased their potassium had somewhat lower blood pressure than those who did not, but only if their blood pressure was high to begin with. The researchers found no link between potassium and raised levels of cholesterol. In most of the studies, people took supplements to increase their potassium rather than changing what they ate. People with higher levels of potassium had a lower risk of having a stroke.

How reliable are the findings?

The findings on blood pressure should be reliable. These are based on studies that randomly assigned people either to change their salt or potassium intake, or not to change it. This is the best way of finding out the effects of treatments. The studies also closely tracked how much salt and potassium people consumed by testing their urine. This boosts the reliability of these results.

The findings on stroke and other heart and circulation problems are less certain. Instead of assigning people to treatments, researchers followed people with different levels of salt and potassium for months or years to see whether they developed heart and circulation problems. This type of research can’t prove that people had a lower risk of problems because they consumed less salt or more potassium. It can only show that there may be a link, as there could have been other things about these people that lowered their risk.

What does this mean for me?

These findings show that cutting down on salt or increasing potassium can safely lower blood pressure by a small amount. It’s not yet clear whether this might lower your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

However, we do know that larger reductions in blood pressure can reduce these risks if your blood pressure is high. Your doctor may recommend reducing your salt and increasing your potassium along with other treatments to help bring your blood pressure down to a healthier level.

Source: Best Health


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