Women need to prioritise potassium for heart health, study finds

·3-min read
Photo credit: Hispanolistic - Getty Images
Photo credit: Hispanolistic - Getty Images

There’s no denying, it truly has been a stellar week for women. The Lionesses brought football home at the 2022 UEFA Women’s EURO final. Our England girls won team gymnastics gold at the Commonwealth Games. Queen Bey dropped a new album. All the good stuff.

But, whilst we’re taking (both metaphorical and literal) strides towards equality in some areas, others remain alarmingly inactive. Healthcare, for instance, has a historical bias towards men, which largely remains today. Case in point: research by British Heart Foundation revealed that women are 50% more likely to receive the wrong initial diagnosis for a heart attack than a man. There’s a terrifying imbalance in the quality and quantity of research into how illness impacts a woman’s physiology compared with a man’s, and how we respond to treatment options. That said, slowly, we’re seeing progress.

A new study, published in European Heart Journal, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), found that potassium-rich diets could be key for improving heart health in women.

How? By counter-acting the effects of high salt intake. ‘It is well known that high salt consumption is associated with elevated blood pressure and a raised risk of heart attacks and strokes,’ said study author Professor Liffert Vogt of Amsterdam University Medical Centers, the Netherlands. ‘Health advice has focused on limiting salt intake but this is difficult to achieve when our diets include processed foods. Potassium helps the body excrete more sodium in the urine. In our study, dietary potassium was linked with the greatest health gains in women.’

During the study, researchers analysed the link between blood pressure and potassium intake in all 24,963 participants – slightly over half of which were women – all aged between 40 and 79. They discovered that, in women, increased potassium intake was associated with lower blood pressure. This was particularly true of women who fell into the high sodium intake category, where each 1 gram increase in daily potassium intake was associated with a 2.4 mmHg lower systolic blood pressure. As for the men? There appeared to be no link between the two.

‘The results suggest that potassium helps preserve heart health, but that women benefit more than men,’ Professor Vogt said. ‘The relationship between potassium and cardiovascular events was the same regardless of salt intake, suggesting that potassium has other ways of protecting the heart on top of increasing sodium excretion.’

Potassium is a vital nutrient that helps to move nutrients into cells and rid cells of waste products. It plays a key role in nerve function, muscle strength and also heart health. Potassium-rich foods include:

  • Bananas

  • Black beans

  • White beans

  • Spinach

  • Avocado

  • Dried apricots

  • Tomato paste

  • Potatoes

  • Yoghurt

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Swiss chard

So, should you be loading up on the stuff? Well, NHS guidelines advise an intake of 3,500mg of potassium a day (for context a 100g banana has around 358mg of potassium) – any more and you risk side effects such as stomach pain, feeling sick and diarrhoea.

Your best bet? Incorporate potassium-rich foods into your diet to promote good heart health, in the same way you do other essential nutrients for optimal wellbeing.

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