By Eric Nagourney
Insufficient levels of potassium may put people at a higher risk of strokes, especially if they are taking diuretics, researchers report today. If the theory is proven, some people may be able to reduce the danger of strokes by just changing their diets.
The study, in the journal Neurology, followed 5,600 men and women 65 and older from four to eight years. After keeping track of which people had strokes, the lead author, Dr. Deborah M. Green of the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, and her colleagues found that potassium appeared to have a role.
The researchers said additional study was needed to establish whether the incidence of stroke could be reduced by adding potassium, which is plentiful in foods like orange juice and bananas, to the diet.
But the researchers said people in the study with the least potassium in their diets were one and a half times as likely to have strokes as those with the most. A daily intake of 2.4 grams was defined as low, and 4 grams as high.
Participants who were taking diuretics, medications that help fight high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and kidney disease by flushing water out of the body, appeared to have a higher risk. Diuretics also rid the body of potassium. Those taking the medication who had the lowest potassium levels were two and half times as likely to have strokes as those with the highest potassium levels.
The researchers were not suggesting that diuretics, which are often taken to reduce the risk of stroke, had an opposite effect. But they said the medications might be even more effective if doctors monitored their patients’ potassium levels.
Source: New York Times (August 13, 2002)