New evidence points to the importance of vascular calcification in hardening of the arteries, predicting adverse cardiovascular outcomes in several diseases, often with overlapping complications such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.
Clearly something to avoid so we need to know more about the underlying causes.
Vascular calcification was previously considered to be a passive, unregulated, and degenerative process, but has now been shown to be a highly regulated process of osteochondrogenic differentiation of vascular smooth muscle cells, the main cell type that determines the vascular tone, or simply blood pressure.
Sounds very complex, but just think hypertension and associated harmful effects.
So what’s happening here?
Well, epidemiological studies, but remember they can sometimes be suspect, have suggested a role for potassium. Low serum potassium levels have been linked to cardiovascular calcification and risks of chronic kidney disease and metabolic syndrome.
Even better we have further proof in that more reliable prospective cohort studies have shown that reduced potassium levels are associated with cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension and chronic heart failure. And providing an appropriate dietary potassium intake reduced the disease incidence.
So all good so far, but what is actually happening here?
Looking at the details
To better explain the findings, researchers at the University of Alabama explored the mechanism of vascular disease three ways: living mice were fed diets that varied in potassium, mouse artery cross-sections were studied in culture medium with varying concentrations of potassium, and mouse vascular smooth muscle cells were grown in a culture medium.
And they found that a reduction in the potassium concentration to the lower limit of the physiological range increased intracellular calcium, which in turn promoted vascular smooth muscle cell calcification in all models tested. Their findings provide molecular insights into the previously unappreciated regulation of vascular calcification and stiffness by low potassium intake and emphasise the need to consider dietary intake of potassium in the prevention of vascular complications of atherosclerosis, the researchers said.
And how do we do that?
Here is the good news
We can eat more bananas. Bananas, and for that matter avocados, are foods that are rich in potassium. A banana a day (or two) might keep the doctor away and prevent hardening of the arteries.
But unfortunately that’s not the whole truth as one peeled banana weighing 120 g, good as it is, will only provide 422 mg of the European Food Safety Authority recommended 3,500 mg daily intake of dietary potassium. So you will have to eat eight bananas to be close to the recommended intake. That’s a lot.
What about if you add an avocado? Not more than another 485 mg I’m afraid. So more effort is needed.
Why not a single medium baked potato to get a whopping 941 mg of potassium or a medium baked sweet potato that has 542 mg of potassium. Or two watermelon wedges with 641 mg of potassium. A cup of frozen spinach provides a respectable 540 mg of potassium, while a cup of cooked and sliced beets add a further 518 mg.
Sounds like a lot of food, but you should know that actual food has proven to be much better than taking a shortcut by adding potassium supplements to your intake.
So stick to the food as best you can. The choice of food is yours.