Potassium intake linked to stroke risk in older women

Postmenopausal women who eat foods higher in potassium are less likely to have strokes and die than women who eat less potassium-rich foods according to new research in Stroke, the journal of the American Heart Association.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of mortality in the United States, and as this infographic shows, women account for 60 percent of all stroke cases in the U.S. Women also have higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.

In this observational study, researchers tracked 90,137 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, for an average 11 years. They looked at potassium consumption, incidence and type of stroke and mortality during that period. The average dietary potassium intake from food —not supplements — was 2,611 mg/day. All participants were free of stroke history at baseline.

Researchers concluded that high potassium intake was associated with a lower risk of all stroke and ischemic stroke, as well as all-cause mortality in older women, particularly those who are not hypertensive.

Specifically, researchers found that:

  • Women who consumed the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to suffer stroke in general and 16 percent less likely to suffer an ischemic stroke than women who ate the least.
  • Among women who did not have hypertension, those who consumed the most potassium had a 27 percent lower ischemic stroke risk and 21 percent reduced risk for all stroke types, compared to women who ate the least potassium in their daily diets.
  • Women who consumed the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die than those who ate the least.
  • Among women with hypertension, those who consumed the most potassium had a lower risk of death, but potassium intake did not lower their stroke risk.

Researchers hypothesize that higher dietary potassium intake may be more beneficial before high blood pressure develops. They also said there was no evidence of any association between potassium intake and hemorrhagic stroke, which could be related to the low number of hemorrhagic strokes in the study.

Only 2.8 percent of women in the study met or exceeded USDA recommended Adequate Intake (AI) for potassium of 4,700 mg per day. “Few Americans, including all age-gender groups, consume potassium in amounts equal to or greater than the AI,”according to 2010 dietary guidelines.

(For other nutritional requirements specific to older adults, check out this terrific tip sheet from member Melinda Hemmelgarn).

At the same time, too much potassium can cause heart problems. Older women should, of course, check with their health provider prior to making major changes in diet or supplement intake.

Story ideas:

Reporters might want to look into local Meals on Wheels programs, meal offerings at senior centers, adult day care or nursing homes and assess whether the menus provide adequate potassium sources.

Take a look at causes of hospital admissions — specifically stroke admissions — and look for any association to low-potassium diets.

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