Potassium supplements could save millions of lives
A new class of pills could reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer by a whopping 300 per cent, according to research published in the American Journal of Cardiology.
The new research could also save tens of millions of dollars a year.
“Potassium is a critical nutrient in your body and is crucial to maintaining healthy blood vessels, blood flow, and the function of the nervous system,” said Dr. Jana Chikritzka, the study’s lead author.
“We know that a healthy heart is vital to your overall health and that is why it is a top priority to prevent heart disease.”
“There is a tremendous amount of data showing that potassium is important for our health,” said Chikuta, a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh.
“But we know that potassium supplementation, which is commonly recommended for the prevention of heart diseases and stroke, is not safe and that the benefit is small.”
In fact, there is evidence that it may even worsen heart disease.
“If you take a supplement, and it has the potential to increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke, that’s something that you need to be cautious about,” said study co-author and cardiac surgeon Dr. Joseph G. Reiss, director of the Cardiac Research Institute at the Mayo Clinic.
“There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all supplement.
We need to make sure we’re using it according to the evidence that’s available.”
While the benefits of potassium supplements are well documented, Chikota and Reiss say the data to date is sparse and inconclusive.
In a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of potassium supplementation on patients with existing heart disease, the researchers found that patients taking potassium supplements had an average of 3.5 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to patients who didn’t.
This reduction in cardiovascular risk was mostly seen among those who were taking the supplements in the first place.
“In a population where people are taking a lot of potassium, we know this could have a major impact,” said Reiss.
“You need to take a careful look at it.”
However, Reiss cautioned that “it’s a matter of when and not if” this could be the case.
“The question is when and how much does this benefit begin to translate into clinical benefit,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot more to this than just the potential for a single supplement.”
For the study, the scientists used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which includes questionnaires about a wide range of lifestyle and medical conditions, including health and wellbeing, diet, physical activity and other physical indicators.
These questions were asked about their diet, their physical activity, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as a questionnaire about their stress level and other indicators of health.
The researchers also looked at the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
In the first set of results, they found that people who took a potassium supplement in the past three months had a 20 per cent higher risk of being diagnosed with a heart condition.
That risk increased by another 20 per one per cent for those who had never taken a supplement.
They also found that taking a potassium-based supplement in a year was associated with a 25 per cent increase in risk of having a heart event, and a 25 percent increase in the risk for a stroke.
This was a significant effect in the current study, but the researchers acknowledge that this is a preliminary finding, so the real effect is likely to be smaller in older people.
“People who are taking potassium pills now may have better outcomes in the long run,” said Gail L. Schuman, professor of cardiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and an author of the study.
“They’re more likely to live longer, which means they’re more at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.”
Reiss also noted that people may be more at ease when they take potassium supplements, and he thinks it could be due to a “dose response” effect.
“It is possible that people taking a supplement for a shorter period of time will have a beneficial effect, while those taking a longer period of treatment may have a negative effect,” he explained.
“However, there are very few randomized controlled clinical trials on potassium supplements and there’s very little data on the long-term health effects of this supplement.”
The researchers suggest people take a potassium capsule daily or, ideally, as part of a multi-vitamin, vitamin B-12, or vitamin E supplement.
The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
It was published online this week in the journal Circulation.
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