Harvard Heart Letter

Sodium/potassium ratio important for health

Sodium is often blamed for boosting blood pressure while potassium is praised for keeping it in check. It really doesn't make sense to look at these two minerals separately, though, since they work in tandem throughout the body. The ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet may be more important than the amount of either one alone.

Our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors took in about 11,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium a day from fruits, vegetables, leaves, flowers, roots, and other plant sources, and well under 700 mg of sodium. That's a sodium-to-potassium ratio of 1 to 16. Today, we get more sodium (3,400 mg) than potassium (2,500 mg), for a ratio of 1.36 to 1.

That's not good, according to a study that tracked the health of more than 12,000 American adults for 15 years. The higher the sodium-potassium ratio, the greater the chances of dying from cardiovascular disease, a heart attack, or for any reason at all (Archives of Internal Medicine, July 11, 2011).

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