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Heart Disease Health Center

Potassium and Your Heart

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Potassium plays a role in every heartbeat. A hundred thousand times a day, it helps trigger your heart to squeeze blood through your body.

It also helps your muscles to move, your nerves to work, and your kidneys to filter blood.

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Food Sources of Potassium

The best way to get enough potassium is to eat fruits and vegetables. It's also in dairy products, whole grains, meat, and fish.

Other great sources include:

  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados
  • Fresh fruits (bananas, oranges, and strawberries)
  • Orange juice
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, and dates)
  • Spinach
  • Beans and peas

The Benefits

Potassium doesn't treat or prevent heart disease. But getting enough potassium can help the heart in several ways:

Better blood pressure. In a study of people with high blood pressure, taking potassium supplements lowered systolic blood pressure -- the top number -- by about 8 points. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods can help cut systolic blood pressure by more than 10 points in people with high blood pressure. You shouldn’t take potassium pills unless your doctor recommends it.

Cholesterol. There's no direct link between potassium and cholesterol. But many diets that lower cholesterol are also high in potassium. So when you get enough potassium, you'll probably eat more fruits and veggies, which are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. This will help your cholesterol levels and lower your chance of developing heart disease.

Heart rhythms problems. Potassium enables your heart to beat. So, if you have heart rhythm problems, potassium may be key. Your doctor can advise you on that. A potassium check might be part of your routine doctor visits.

How Much Do You Need?

How much potassium should you eat? The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 4,700 milligrams per day for healthy people. The easiest way to get this amount is by adding high-potassium fruits and vegetables to your diet.

It's possible to get too much of a good thing, though. Ask your doctor before starting a potassium supplement.

Most people shouldn't have any problems from eating a high-potassium diet or taking potassium supplements as directed. If you have kidney failure or other kidney problems, check with your doctor about how much potassium you should get.

Some medications can raise potassium levels, including spironolactone (Aldactone), triamterene, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), and some ACE inhibitors.

Some diuretics for heart failure can make you lose potassium in your urine. If you are taking a diuretic, it's important to have your potassium levels checked, and repleted as needed. You can put it back by taking a supplement or eating more potassium-rich foods.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on October 03, 2014

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