Harvard Heart Letter

Minerals to manage blood pressure

Are you getting enough calcium, potassium, and magnesium to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range?

Cutting back on salt is the first commandment in controlling high blood pressure, or hypertension. But managing your intake of other dietary minerals also appears to be key. "We're moving beyond just looking at sodium," says Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. Research from the landmark DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) trial and more recently the OmniHeart study has shed light on the synergy of different foods and the role of minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium in controlling blood pressure.

Promote potassium

Normal body levels of potassium are important for muscle function. Potassium relaxes the walls of the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and protecting against muscle cramping. A number of studies have shown an association between low potassium intake and increased blood pressure and higher risk of stroke. On the flip side, people who already have high blood pressure can significantly lower their systolic (top number) blood pressure by increasing their potassium intake when they choose to eat healthy foods.

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