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Low potassium linked to high blood pressure

In a multi-ethnic population-based group of 3,303 adults, a low potassium level in the urine correlated with high blood pressure, regardless of the level of salt in the diet.
/ Source: Reuters

In a multi-ethnic population-based group of 3,303 adults, half of whom were African American, a low potassium level in the urine correlated with high blood pressure, regardless of the level of salt (sodium) in the diet or cardiovascular risk factors.

This observation "supports the hypothesis that dietary potassium deficiency plays an important role in the development of high blood pressure," Dr. Susan Hedayati, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, told Reuters Health.

"The association was stronger in African Americans than non-African Americans," which suggests possible racial differences in the development of high blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, and its relationship with to potassium levels in the diet, added Hedayati, who reported the findings over the weekend at the American Society of Nephrology's annual meeting in Philadelphia.

The overall prevalence of hypertension was 36 percent. In addition to having lower levels of potassium in the urine, individuals with hypertension were older, heavier and more likely to be African American. Hypertensive subjects also had lower glomerular filtration rates, which correlates with poor kidney function.

According to Hedayati, the potassium level in urine samples was strongly related to blood pressure. "The lower the potassium in the urine, hence the lower the potassium in the diet, the higher the blood pressure," she noted in a written statement. "This effect was even stronger than the effect of sodium on blood pressure."

"There has been a lot of publicity about lowering salt or sodium in the diet to lower blood pressure, but not enough on increasing dietary potassium," Hedayati added.

She also mentioned that Dr. Chou-Long Huang, one of the co-investigators on the study, has recently shown that potassium deficiency increases the expression of a gene called WNK1 in animals.

"We are currently doing studies to see if this gene is responsible for the mechanism of potassium deficiency causing hypertension in humans," Hedayati said.