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Study: Potassium helps reduce blood pressure

May 27, 1997
Web posted at: 11:09 p.m. EDT (0309 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is your blood pressure too high? Try eating more bananas.

At least that's what a new study recommends. High levels of potassium also can be obtained in pill form or by eating other foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruit, milk and watermelon.

"The existing body of evidence ... favors the notion that potassium supplementation should be considered as part of recommendations for prevention and treatment of hypertension," wrote Paul Whelton, formerly with the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Whelton, now at Tulane University School of Public Health, pooled the results from 33 random, controlled trials with 2,609 participants that focused on the effect of potassium supplements.

Potassium appeared to be particularly effective among African Americans and people who ingest a lot of salt, which can elevate blood pressure, Whelton wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


"It really adds one other major element to the ability to prevent and treat high blood pressure, and I think these data are more convincing than any other data that has been presented to date," Whelton said.

The researchers recommend that people try to get potassium through their diet first, with six servings of potassium-rich foods every day or 250 milligrams of a supplement.

Only a few participants in two of the trials suffered adverse effects from taking potassium in pill form, primarily abdominal pain, belching and flatulence. In another study, some patients had problems such as red blood in stools, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.


Researchers say it's a good idea to consult a doctor before going on a regimen of high potassium, and warn against stopping blood pressure medication without your physician's OK.

"This gives us hope that we can potentially prevent and reduce morbidity and do it through dietary and lifestyle means," Dr. Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions said.

Doctors say the best way to control blood pressure is to lose weight, cut back on salt, drink in moderation, exercise and maintain a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly those containing plenty of potassium.

Correspondent Eugenia Halsey and Reuters contributed to this report.
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