According to a new study, women who enjoy potassium-rich diets after menopause can significantly lower stroke risk. Potassium is an essential mineral, meaning people have to meet their need for it by consuming it in foods and supplements. It is very rare for humans to have a potassium deficiency, because it is so readily available, but this finding is just one reason it is important to get adequate amounts of it. Ordinarily, potassium is at least the ninth most common element in the body.
It has long been recognized that potassium is important in regulating blood pressure. People with hypertension are sometimes given potassium supplements or advised to eat a high-potassium diet in order to help keep that under control. What the researchers found is that in postmenopausal women, having high levels of potassium reduced the incidence of stroke independent of its effect on blood pressure.
In the study, women with the highest levels of potassium were 12 percent less likely to suffer strokes, and 10 percent less likely to die from stroke, than women with the lowest levels. Even among study subjects already diagnosed with hypertension, those who were getting more potassium, while they had the same risk of stroke, had a lower death rate from those they suffered.
Although few people show symptoms of potassium deficiency, it is rare for people to get as much potassium as experts recommend. Potassium plays several important roles in the body, including muscle function, and the United States Department of Agriculture recommends people get at least 4,700 mg each day. However, in the study, fewer than three percent of the subjects were found to reach that target.
That means eating foods with a lot of potassium. Fortunately, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables meet that criterion. The American Heart Association specifically recommends bananas, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, and potatoes. Other foods with high potassium content include white beans, dried apricots, avocados, mushrooms, yogurt, dark leafy greens, acorn squash, and most fin fish, especially salmon and halibut.