Transcript: Potassium and Autoimmune Disease
Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.
Potassium is best known for lowering blood pressure and stroke risk, but a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of potassium supplementation was tried in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, published in the Journal of Pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis is kind of the classic autoimmune inflammatory arthritis. Sufferers tend to have inappropriately low glucocorticoid levels, which are circulating steroid hormones (like cortisol) that suppress inflammation. And so, low levels may allow for more inflammation. Glucocorticoids also help our kidneys excrete potassium. And so, when we eat a lot of potassium, our adrenal glands secrete more glucocorticoids, so we don’t build up too much. And so, maybe if you gave people with rheumatoid arthritis some extra potassium, it would boost steroid levels, and help with the inflammation.
So, they bumped their daily intake up to 6,500 [milligrams] a day—still not reflective of our evolutionary heritage, but at least they were making the cut for adequate intake. And, indeed, higher potassium intake was associated with an improvement in rheumatoid arthritis, and a lower disease activity and pain intensity, “reflecting an anti-pain effect for potassium.”
And so, they suggest planning a successful dietary regimen, including much more use of leafy vegetables. Those placed on a plant-based diet experience a significant increase in potassium intake. Though even those eating vegan aren’t eating enough greens, on average, maybe that bump in potassium helps explain why plant-based diets are so effective at treating rheumatoid arthritis.
If this is the mechanism, though, if potassium-rich foods boost natural anti-inflammatory hormones in the body, then it should work for other inflammatory conditions, too, right? Well, that’s exactly what was suggested recently.
Some studies have shown vegetarian diets improve psoriasis symptoms, for example. Maybe this is why, speculating a “Cortisol-Potassium theory as a novel mechanism for [the] beneficial effects of vegetarian diets.”
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