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Slash Risk of Stroke with More Potassium and Less Salt

Update Date: Apr 05, 2013 04:07 PM EDT

Increasing potassium in your diet and minimizing salt can reduce the risk of stroke.

A study found that eating two to three extra servings of fruits of vegetables high in potassium has a beneficial effect on blood pressure. As a result, the World Health Organization recommends adults intake more than 4g of potassium a day.  

The study was conducted by the BMJ group, with the collaboration of scientists from the UN World Food Programme, Imperial College London and several others. Researchers studied 22 controlled trials, as well as 11 other studies which incorporated more than 128,000 participants.

The study showed an increase of 3-4g of potassium a day reduced blood pressure in adults. The increased potassium intake was also linked to lower the risk of stroke by 24 percent.

Researchers said potassium could have benefits for children's blood pressure too, but more data was needed,

In a separate study led by researchers at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London, scientists found a modest reduction of salt intake for four or more weeks resulted in a significant decrease in blood pressure.

The study incorporated results from 34 previous trials involving more than 3,000 people, some with raised blood pressure and others with normal blood pressure. The reduction of salt intake resulted in decreased blood pressure for both groups.

A "modest reduction" of salt intake meant halving the daily consumption of salt, according to Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary, who led the study.

"In the UK on average our dietary salt intake is 9.5g, so we are talking about bringing this down to 6g, or if you're very careful you can get it down to the recommended 5g - but it's very difficult because of the amount of salt already in the food we buy."

"Bread is the biggest source of salt in our diet," MacGregor told BBC News.

MacGregor recommends reducing salt intake to 3g per day in order to see a result on one's blood pressure. He also added that getting people to eat more fruit and vegetables high in potassium is equally important.

"Salt and potassium work in opposing ways. So a combination of lower salt and higher potassium in our diets has a bigger effect than changing just one of those factors alone."

High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke according to Clare Walton, a research communications officer at the Stroke Association.

The World Health Organization recommends that adults should not consume more than 5g of salt a day, which is equivalent to a teaspoon.

Potassium intake is important because it controls the balance of fluids in the body and also helps lower blood pressure. Some foods rich in potassium are bananas, most vegetables, nuts, seeds, milk, fish and chicken. Consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables daily should meet the recommended intake of 4g of potassium daily. 

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