Women With Low Potassium at Risk for Stroke

Women With Low Potassium at Risk for Stroke

It’s long been common knowledge that getting enough potassium every day is imperative if you suffer from existing hypertension, but new studies show that the mineral is equally valuable to reduce the risk of stroke in older adults — with or without existing high blood pressure.

According to a new study published this month in the journal Stroke, potassium is an effective preventative at reducing that risk in hypertensive adult women by as much as 12 to 16 percent or up to 21 to 27 percent for those with normal blood pressure.

“Our findings suggest that [all] women need to eat more potassium-rich foods,” said lead study author Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., and senior researcher and professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “Our findings give women another reason to eat their fruits and vegetables, which are not only good sources of potassium, but also lower their risk for stroke and [premature] death.”


That risk is especially notable for women, who according to new guidelines are at a greater risk of stroke than men. Women should also watch out for the warning signs of stroke, including diabetes, depression, and migraines (especially those that also cause visual disturbances known as aura) as well as abnormal heart rhythms, especially atrial fibrillation. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for all women in the United States according to the American Heart Association, surpassed only by heart disease and cancer.

No matter your gender, everyone needs adequate potassium in their bodies. Potassium is an essential mineral, an electrolyte that our body requires to regulate its electrical activity, especially in the heart. Potassium also builds proteins, breaks down carbohydrates, and builds muscle.

But as you age, your body loses more and more of the potassium you get from your diet, especially if you overindulge in salty snacks. (When the kidneys work overtime to flush out that excessive sodium in the blood, much-needed potassium gets eliminated, too.) And while the average American gets more than enough sodium — up to 200 times the daily requirement in many people — many of us are falling short on our daily intake of potassium. While we are averaging about 2,500 mgs. each day, we should be getting much more — about 4,700 mgs.

Symptoms of Low Potassium  

Signs and symptoms of low potassium are less than obvious and they can be changeable, appearing and then not, and usually not setting off any noticeable alarm bells. You may be getting too little (or losing too much through your urine) if you have existing high blood pressure, fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, stomach cramps and/or chronic bloated feeling, and heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat.

But if you have an underlying gastrointestinal disease, such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may be losing essential amounts of potassium every day without even realizing it. Without enough of this essential mineral, blood vessels can constrict, causing your blood pressure to be excessively high. Adequate potassium intake can also help protect your body from developing kidney stones.

The 2014 Einstein medical school study tracked 90,137 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 to 79 for more than a decade and found them consuming an average of 2,611 mgs of potassium daily, well below established U.S. guidelines. (A scant 2.8 percent were actually getting enough of the mineral via their diet!).

To get more of this essential mineral, everyone runs for bananas, which are a great choice since the average-sized banana tops out at roughly 400 mgs. But there are even better choices that really pack on the potassium punch, such as apricots. One cup of dried apricots contain as much as 2,500 mgs! Other great potassium-rich food choices are white beans and potatoes, leafy green vegetables, milk and other dairy products such as yogurt, cantaloupe, kiwi, prunes, red meat, fish, and soy products.