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Woman Stretching to warm up for run

Potassium deficiency has long been associated with muscle cramps, but research shows not eating enough potassium can also have a negative impact on heart health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 75 million people suffer from high blood pressure. That’s about one out of every three U.S. adults. The good news? There are steps you can take to reduce and even prevent high-blood pressure.

How Potassium Improves Heart Health 

High blood pressure is called the “silent killer,” as it often shows no signs or symptoms. In fact, many people don’t even know they suffer from it.

Potassium works with Sodium to Lower Blood Pressure

Eating foods low in salt and high in potassium can help lower your blood pressure. That’s because potassium lessens the effects of sodium. The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through urine. Potassium can also help ease tension in your blood vessel walls, which helps lower blood pressure.

Studies show increasing your potassium intake can help reduce the risk of other cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke.

Numerous observational studies have found associations between low potassium intake and increased rates of fasting glucose, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Magnesium and Potassium Combine for a Strong Heart

Without magnesium, potassium and calcium would have a tough time moving through the body. Fortunately, transporting these minerals through cells is an important function of magnesium.

Magnesium allows potassium to improve the nervous system signals and relax the muscles receiving these signals. Equally important, this teamwork helps lower blood pressure by regulating the heart muscles output according to the signals it receives.

Myths Behind Potassium and Cramps

The common thought on the cause of a muscle cramp from exercise is dehydration or electrolyte imbalances according to athletic trainers. Yet, stretching is the most common treatment to relieve a muscle that is actively cramping. On top of this, a muscle cannot cramp if it cannot contract and stretching does not change levels of water, potassium or sodium in the body during a cramp.

How Potassium Affects Cramps through the Nervous System

Instead of thinking about cramps as a malfunctioning muscle, science now believes the likely culprit is a product of a malfunctioning nervous system and fatigue. Specific to exercise, research is pointing to the association of cramp-prone athletes with a lower resistance to overstimulation of the muscle causing a cramp.

Researchers feel potassium and other electrolytes’ role in regulating the nervous system is a better reasoning to the cause cramps. Rather than a drop in fluid levels causing spasms, an imbalance of electrolytes prevents the body from reacting to fatigue by overstimulating the tired muscle.

Ultimately, a recent study states growing evidence supports overactivity of the nervous system in unison with fatigue to be the main causes “rather than dehydration or electrolyte deficits.”

Potassium for Prevention of Cramps

The main problem with trying to treat cramps using food is absorption. Eating a banana can take up to an hour to digest and influence nutrient levels. Unfortunately, this does little to help someone experiencing a cramp.

In a preventive scenario, eating potassium-rich foods did not prevent the occurrence of cramps for athletes in a review of multiple studies.

Overall, the best treatment does not rely on one quick fix to prevent cramping. Instead, a well-balanced diet is key for the body to have the fuel it needs to reduce fatigue, an important factor in cramps. Issues with fatigue do not improve focusing only one nutrient as a magic bullet. Rather, proper hydration with plenty of fruits and vegetables will provide all of the nutrients needed.

Supplements, such as a multivitamin, should be taken in addition to a healthy diet filling any nutritional gaps.

Foods High in Potassium

Looking to increase your potassium intake? Reach for leafy greens such as kale, spinach and arugula, which provide an abundance of potassium. These foods are part of the DASH diet, which is recommended by Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionists.

Other foods high in potassium include:

  • Avocados
  • Cantaloupe and honeydew melon
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Fat-free yogurt
  • Lima beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Oranges
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Prunes
  • Raisins and dates
  • Tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce
  • Tuna

The National Institutes of Health recommends people age 14 and older receive 4,700 mg of potassium daily. Achieving your daily dose of potassium is quite easy if you’re following a healthy diet.

All meat products as well as fish products, such as cod and salmon, are packed with potassium. Vegetarian? Vegetables, including broccoli and sweet potatoes and citrus fruits are also high in potassium.

If your diet isn’t enough, try supplementing with Cooper Complete Original Multivitamin, which contains 400 mg of potassium/serving.

Remember, it’s important to talk with your physician before starting a new supplement regimen. To shop the entire line of Cooper Complete products, visit coopercomplete.com/shop/.

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