Lowering Our Sodium-to-Potassium Ratio to Reduce Stroke Risk

Lowering Our Sodium-to-Potassium Ratio to Reduce Stroke Risk
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The potassium content in greens is one of two ways they can improve artery function within minutes of consumption.

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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.

More than a thousand years ago, an ancient Persian medical text advised, for the treatment of hypertension, lifestyle interventions—such as “[a]voiding…meat, and pastries”—and recommended eating spinach. A thousand years later, researchers discovered that a single meal containing spinach could indeed reduce blood pressure, thanks to its nitrate content. All green leafy vegetables are packed with the stuff, which our body can use to create nitric oxide that improves the flexibility and function of our arteries—which may be why eating our greens may be one of the most powerful things we can do to reduce our chronic disease risk.

Just switching from low-nitrate vegetables to high-nitrate vegetables for a week can lower blood pressure by about four points. And, the higher the blood pressure they started out with, the greater benefit they got. Four points might not sound like a lot, but even a two-point drop in blood pressure could prevent more than 10,000 fatal strokes every year here in the U.S.

Potassium-rich foods may also act via a similar mechanism. If we just got the minimum recommended daily intake of potassium, we might prevent 150,000 strokes every year—because potassium appears to “increase…the release of nitric oxide.” One week of eating two bananas and a large baked potato every day significantly improved arterial function. Even a single high-potassium meal—containing the equivalent of two to three bananas’ worth of potassium—can improve the function of our arteries. Whereas a high-sodium meal—which is to say, a meal with the regular amount of salt most people eat—can impair arterial function within 30 minutes.

Whereas potassium increases nitric oxide release, sodium reduces nitric oxide release. So, the health of our arteries may be determined by our sodium-to-potassium ratio. Two slices of bacon worth of sodium, and our arteries take a significant hit within 30 minutes. But, add three bananas’ worth of potassium, and you can counteract the effects of the sodium.

When we evolved, we were eating ten times more potassium than sodium. Now, the ratio is “reversed”—more sodium than potassium. These kinds of studies “provide…additional evidence that increases in dietary potassium should be encouraged.” What does that mean? “More…beans, sweet potatoes, [and] leafy greens,” which are like a super-good double whammy—high in potassium and nitrates.

This recommendation to eat spinach from the 900s is pretty impressive—though they also recommended bloodletting, and abstaining from sex. So, we should probably take ancient wisdom with a grain of salt. But our meals should be added-salt-free.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Kristina DeMuth. Image has been modified.

Video credit: Daniel Black.

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.

More than a thousand years ago, an ancient Persian medical text advised, for the treatment of hypertension, lifestyle interventions—such as “[a]voiding…meat, and pastries”—and recommended eating spinach. A thousand years later, researchers discovered that a single meal containing spinach could indeed reduce blood pressure, thanks to its nitrate content. All green leafy vegetables are packed with the stuff, which our body can use to create nitric oxide that improves the flexibility and function of our arteries—which may be why eating our greens may be one of the most powerful things we can do to reduce our chronic disease risk.

Just switching from low-nitrate vegetables to high-nitrate vegetables for a week can lower blood pressure by about four points. And, the higher the blood pressure they started out with, the greater benefit they got. Four points might not sound like a lot, but even a two-point drop in blood pressure could prevent more than 10,000 fatal strokes every year here in the U.S.

Potassium-rich foods may also act via a similar mechanism. If we just got the minimum recommended daily intake of potassium, we might prevent 150,000 strokes every year—because potassium appears to “increase…the release of nitric oxide.” One week of eating two bananas and a large baked potato every day significantly improved arterial function. Even a single high-potassium meal—containing the equivalent of two to three bananas’ worth of potassium—can improve the function of our arteries. Whereas a high-sodium meal—which is to say, a meal with the regular amount of salt most people eat—can impair arterial function within 30 minutes.

Whereas potassium increases nitric oxide release, sodium reduces nitric oxide release. So, the health of our arteries may be determined by our sodium-to-potassium ratio. Two slices of bacon worth of sodium, and our arteries take a significant hit within 30 minutes. But, add three bananas’ worth of potassium, and you can counteract the effects of the sodium.

When we evolved, we were eating ten times more potassium than sodium. Now, the ratio is “reversed”—more sodium than potassium. These kinds of studies “provide…additional evidence that increases in dietary potassium should be encouraged.” What does that mean? “More…beans, sweet potatoes, [and] leafy greens,” which are like a super-good double whammy—high in potassium and nitrates.

This recommendation to eat spinach from the 900s is pretty impressive—though they also recommended bloodletting, and abstaining from sex. So, we should probably take ancient wisdom with a grain of salt. But our meals should be added-salt-free.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Kristina DeMuth. Image has been modified.

Video credit: Daniel Black.

Doctor's Note

Why might abstaining from sex not be the best idea for cardiovascular health? Because the opposite may actually be true. See my video Do Men Who Have More Sex Live Longer?.

What else can we do about stroke risk? Check out:

For more on potassium, see Potassium and Autoimmune Disease and 98% of American Diets Potassium-Deficient.

Interested in learning more about the dangers of sodium? See:

Sodium isn’t just bad for our arteries. Check out How to Treat Asthma with a Low-Salt Diet and Sodium and Autoimmune Disease: Rubbing Salt in the Wound?.

I further explore the wonders of nitrate-rich vegetables in:

Sweet potatoes are an excellent high-potassium, low-sodium choice, but what’s the best way to prepare them? Check out The Best Way to Cook Sweet Potatoes.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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