High-Potassium Diet Helps Older Women Avoid Stroke

A potassium-rich diet significantly reduces the risk of stroke for postmenopausal women, according to research published in Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association (AHA). Potassium also lowers postmenopausal women's risk of death from stroke, said the AHA.

Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke, compared to men. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the US.

Multiple previous studies have shown that eating foods rich in potassium reduces high blood pressure, because the mineral blunts some of the harmful effects of sodium. The FDA recommends 4.7 grams per day for women (5.1 g for lactating women). Yet population studies reveal that less than 3% of women meet those dietary requirements.

For the 11-year AHA study, researchers observed more than 90,000 women ages 50 to 79, monitoring their incidence of stroke and potassium intake from food (not from vitamins or supplements). Women who ate the most potassium were 12% less likely to suffer stroke in general and 16% less likely to have an ischemic stroke than women who ate the least, said the AHA. (Blood clots cause ischemic brain attacks, which account for most strokes, according to the AHA.) Women who ate the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die than those who ate the least. The study did not take other lifestyle aspects like weight, sodium intake or smoking into account.

Chew Potassium--Don't Gulp It!

The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet) lowers high blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease. Along with a recommendation of 4.7 grams of potassium per day, the DASH diet emphasizes adequate calcium, magnesium and fiber, plus a low sodium intake.

The Stroke study and the DASH diet highlight the need to eat your potassium, not take it as a supplement.

It's easy to get enough potassium because it's in many foods. For example, red meat, chicken and fish such as salmon, cod, flounder and sardines are good sources of potassium, according to the National Library of Medicine. Other good sources are:

  • nuts;
  • milk and yogurt;
  • soy products and veggie burgers;
  • vegetables such as broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes (especially their skins), sweet potatoes and winter squash; and
  • fruits like citrus, cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes and apricots (dried apricots have more than fresh).

Most older women could benefit from increasing potassium intake, but check with your doctor. Some people have too much potassium in their blood, which is dangerous. A high-potassium diet is not recommended for those with kidney disorders.

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