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Potassium/Sodium Dietaty Ratio and Your Health

November 16, 2008

If you ask a practicing physician specialized in kidney disease why aging humans experience rising blood pressure, you will get the idiopathic answer – we don’t know at this time. They can explain that there are numerous factors involved, and the relationship of those is not understood, and they can offer no “cure”, only treatment. If you ask Dr. Richard D. Moore that question, he will tell you that in cultures with traditional diets where the ratio of potassium (K) to sodium (Na) in the diet is greater than 4:1, hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure) simply doesn’t occur.

The article that I put up last week on the link between hypertension and the amount of potassium in the diet started me wondering why that should not be obvious to almost anyone, and spurred me to search for some definitive studies or learnings. I came across an interview of Dr Moore by Dr. Passwater ( that told the story of his own investigation of how the sodium/potassium pump maintains the electrolyte balance and pH within the body’s cells, starting a graduate student in 1958. Over the years his understanding solidified regarding how the ratio K/Na in our diet, which he calls the K-factor, impacts not only hypertension, but factors leading to metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance as well. He has been trying for over 25 years to convince the medical community at large that modern food industry has created a severe imbalance between the levels of potassium and sodium we ingest. He professes that this inhibits proper operation of the K/Na pump mechanism of every cell, with negative health consequences.

Our bodies are designed to preserve sodium and easily flush large intakes of potassium through the urine. In the ancient past of human development, sodium has been hard to come by while potassium is easy to find in almost everything that grows in the ground. Salt was a rare commodity except in sea-coast habitats. Dr. Moore cites anthropological evidence that Paleolithic Man got about 11,000mg of Potassium (K) with about 700 mg of sodium (Na) per day, for a ratio of about 15.7:1. Today we take in a ratio of more like 0.6:1. He cites studies that suggest that the critical ratio for K/Na is greater than 4:1 or the outcome is a ramping up of blood pressure and the other related chronic metabolic diseases. The culprit is primarily processed foods that contain high levels of sodium salt, paired with a decrease in consumption of fruits and vegetables. He explains that excess sodium (about 4000mg/day) and insufficient potassium (about 2500 mg/day in the USA) inhibits the K/Na pump and reduces the pH of (acidifies) the interior of cells. This has a negative effect on impact on another cellular pumping mechanism – the sodium/calcium pump – resulting in a chronic increase in calcium in the body’s cells. For the muscle cells of the blood vessel system that means a chronic state of tightening or constriction that raises blood pressure. He also shows that higher extra-cellular sodium lowers sensitivity to insulin – possibly a cause of insulin resistance seen in metabolic syndrome.

I am willing to use myself as a lab rat, so I went looking for some potassium chloride or other potassium supplements; big surprise! If you have tried to find a decent potassium supplement lately you know the govt has ruled that you can only get potassium supplements in 99 mg pills or capsules. Is that really in our best interest? states, “Although there is no established safe upper limit, potassium toxicity appears to develop with an intake of approximately 18,000 mgs and may lead to cardiac arrest.”(3) Considering this information, you can see that, while possible, it would be very difficult to overdose on potassium. Here is an informative link from the Linus Pauling Institute on potassium. There are many interlinked mineral nutritional requirements, and while it seems highly unlikely that you will OD on potassium, the levels of several other key minerals are influenced by potassium intake. It is reasonable in my mind to seek professional guidance before taking grams/day of supplements. One thing you can’t err on is eating real whole foods. Eat your veggies and fruits folks, and give up the chips and manufactured food products!

Good Living – Frank

Frank Wilhelmi

Frank Wilhelmi

Frank Wilhelmi – Retired/consultant electronic engineer researches and reports practical strategies for optimizing health and fitness into advanced age. “I have a passion for living life to the fullest, and helping others to do the same.” A rapidly growing body of knowledge now enables us to extend our health and fitness decades beyond popular expectations.

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