A group of researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found diets rich in potassium help prevent arteries from hardening - which often leads to heart disease.
Atherosclerosis is a key risk factor for heart disease. A new study showed that the mice that were fed with low-potassium diets tend to have harder arteries compared with mice that were fed with high-potassium diets.
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"They demonstrate the benefit of adequate potassium supplementation on prevention of vascular calcification in atherosclerosis-prone mice, and the adverse effect of low potassium intake", she said in a statement.
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When researchers looked at arterial cross-sections in cultures that were exposed to three different concentrations of potassium, based on normal physiological levels of potassium in the blood, they found a direct effect for the potassium on arterial calcification within arterial rings. It contains some of the highest amounts of potassium having around 708.1 mg of the dietary mineral per cup, or about one serving.
Mechanistically, they found that low-potassium elevated intracellular calcium in the vascular smooth muscle cells, via a potassium transport channel called the inward rectifier potassium channel. Furthermore, they noted foods with low or normal levels of potassium yielded significant vascular calcification and aortal stiffening. According to Paul Sander, the co-author of this study, their "findings have important translational potential".
If the findings are reflected in humans, those at risk for heart disease may be prescribed potassium supplements to reduce vascular calcification.
"Reduced dietary potassium intake has been linked to the pathogenesis of a variety of human diseases, including atherosclerosis, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease".
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Although this research gave great clues about prevention of heart diseases, only mice were studied. Other good sources of potassium include parsnips, seeds, fish and poultry.
Adults should get 3,500mg of potassium a day, the NHS said.
Additionally, raisins, coconut water, and spinach are also rich in potassium -containing around 600 mg, 575 mg, and 420 mg per cup, respectively.
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Having too much potassium could cause a stomach ache, diarrhoea, nausea and kidney disease.