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May 14, 2015

Potassium Promotes Healthy Blood Pressure in Children

Study finds potassium, not salt, is most strongly associated with blood pressure levels in children.

For a healthy blood pressure, it’s more important that children get enough potassium rather than limit salt intake, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

According to current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, individuals between the ages of 2 and 50 should limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day to promote good health. Guidelines also suggest that certain people, including older adults and black individuals, should limit salt intake to 1,500 mg a day to further reduce blood pressure. However, studies suggest that such low levels of sodium consumption may do more harm than good in some people or are unnecessary.

To investigate the issue, researchers analyzed data from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Growth and Health Study. First started in 1985, this study included young girls in California, Ohio and Washington, DC to track how various factors influenced health during adolescence. A total of 2,185 girls enrolled in the study between 9 and 10 years old and were followed for 10 years. In addition to tracking the girls’ blood pressure, researchers monitored sodium intake and potassium consumption, which has been shown to promote healthy blood pressure levels.

Researchers found that between the ages of 9 and 17 years old, the majority of girls consumed anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 mg of sodium a day—well beyond current dietary recommendations. In addition, 36% of girls consumed less than 1,800 mg of potassium a day and only 19% consumed 2,400 mg or more of potassium a day.

Contrary to what guidelines suggest, there was no significant difference in blood pressure between girls with low vs. high levels of sodium intake. There was, however, a clear association between potassium and a healthy blood pressure. Girls with higher potassium intake had slower increases in blood pressure over the course of the study, suggesting that potassium helps keep high blood pressure at bay.

Therefore, authors believe that it’s more important that children consume plenty of potassium-rich foods rather than focusing on limiting sodium consumption. Higher potassium intake has been linked to lower blood pressure in previous studies, and consuming potassium-rich foods like beans, potatoes, squash and bananas may be a simple way to help children promote better health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is potassium?
  • Potassium is a mineral that helps the body’s nerves and muscles function. Potassium-rich foods include fruits, vegetables and beans like bananas, spinach, squash, potatoes and soy beans. Although potassium has been linked to reduced cardiovascular risk, too much potassium can be dangerous for certain individuals, like patients with heart failure or kidney disease.
  • How can too much salt be harmful to your health?

  • While some salt is necessary to maintain the proper balance of fluids in the body, too much salt causes the kidneys to retain water, which increases blood volume and pressure and puts a strain on the heart. These effects can cause hypertension and significantly harm those with pre-existing heart problems.

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