High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) continues to plague millions of Americans. It is known as the “silent killer” because although it oftentimes will not come with any warning signs or symptoms, it can be linked to fatal incidents of heart attacks and strokes. When most people think about high blood pressure and the diet, they mostly think about sodium. That, however, is only part of the picture with this condition. Three other minerals – potassium, calcium and magnesium – also play an important role in regulating blood pressure. Many believe that an intake of 2,300mg of sodium, 4,7000mg of potassium, 1,200mg of calcium and 420mg of magnesium is the perfect ration to combat hypertension.
For many years, cardiologists believed that lowered sodium in the diet could help high blood pressure all by itself; now they realize that balancing the sodium with potassium – usually by a ratio of around 2:1 – is much more effective. Potassium helps to counterattack the effect that too much sodium can have on the body, and a recent study from the Center for Disease Control showed that those who got the most sodium and least potassium in their diets doubled their chances of developing cardiac disease. (1)
Most people think of calcium in regards to bone health (and that’s important, too!) but calcium also helps with the expansion and contraction of your blood vessels and when calcium levels are inadequate, they artery walls can tighten and become less elastic, a factor that can put you at greater risk for blood pressure problems as well as blood clot formation. It also helps your body to maintain a healthy balance of sodium. It is better, too, to get this calcium from your diet rather than through supplements as it is generally easier for your body to absorb it. (2)
It is only in recent years that researchers have begun to fully appreciate the important role that magnesium plays in cardiac health. It helps facilitate the transport of potassium and calcium through the body and also helps to relax the walls of arteries, thus lowering blood pressure and risk of heart attacks and strokes. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that those with the highest magnesium intakes had the healthiest blood pressure numbers. Again, it is better to receive magnesium from the diet than from supplementation. (3)
Blood pressure is not a simple condition, nor is it simple to combat. The best approach seems to be regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, limiting alcohol consumption and controlling stress. This, combined with a better knowledge of what these three minerals can do for cardiac health and including them in the diet can go a long way to sustainable hypertension management.
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