The notion of blood pressure control through supplements was tested in a 1998 study of 300 nurses who didn’t normally consume a lot of calcium or potassium in their diets. They took calcium and potassium supplements for 16 weeks, and at the end of the study, researchers found that potassium helped to lower blood pressure a little bit, but calcium did not at all. The conclusion: Potassium supplements may be somewhat helpful in lowering blood pressure, but getting more nutrients through food may be a better approach.
Another study also found that the hypertension-lowering effects of potassium supplements were somewhat similar to the results seen when people followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet. The DASH diet is focused on consuming lots of vegetables, fruits, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and seeds. Many of these foods are rich sources of potassium. A study that focused just on the DASH diet found that it lowered blood pressure for just
about everybody who tried it, regardless of gender, race, weight, hypertension status, or physical activity level.
A Potassium-Rich Diet
It’s known that potassium-rich foods can help control high blood pressure. But what should you eat? A variety of foods contain potassium, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and fish. Those especially rich in potassium include potatoes, lima beans, bananas, tomato sauce, beet greens, fat-free yogurt or milk, halibut, tuna, and orange juice. Here’s how some of these choices stack up:
- One cup of orange juice: 496 milligrams (mg) of potassium
- One baked potato: 1,081 mg
- One cup of sliced bananas: 594 mg
- One cup of tomato sauce: 909 mg
- One cup of cooked spinach: 839 mg
Recommendations are that you eat about 4,700 mg of potassium each day. But don’t go overboard; too much potassium can be especially dangerous for older adults and people with kidney disorders. Ask your doctor about your specific needs.
The Scoop on Calcium and Hypertension
A recent review of research on calcium to treat high blood pressure examined 13 small studies and found little evidence that calcium supplements helped to reduce hypertension, though the authors of the review did point out that the studies may not have been big enough to draw good conclusions and more research is needed.
Even though there is no conclusive evidence that calcium supplements will help to control your hypertension, at least one large study found that a low-fat diet that included dairy products (a rich source of calcium) did decrease the risk of developing hypertension for a study group of almost 30,000 women over the age of 45.
This research showed that women who drank two or more daily servings of skim milk (or consumed other low-fat dairy products) reduced their risk for developing high blood pressure by 10 percent compared with women who didn’t consume dairy products as frequently. It wasn’t clear if it was the calcium or the consumption of dairy products in general that tended to lower a person’s risk for developing high blood pressure. (The study also found that taking calcium as a supplement didn’t have the same benefit.)
While scientists try to tease out the exact effects of potassium and calcium on hypertension, the bottom line when it comes to preventing or treating this disease is to eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.