What do SODIUM – (periodic table symbol Na) – MAGNESIUM (Mg), POTASSIUM (K) and CALCIUM (Ca) all have in common?
Aside from being amongst the major essential minerals which our bodies require on a daily basis for healthy functioning, these 4 minerals have a significant influence on regulating blood pressure. But not all of them exert a beneficial influence. More about this later…
We Are What We Eat!
This statement is today truer than ever!! The modern day diet of fast and convenience foods with their highly processed, nutrient-poor, salt and sugar enriched ingredients – in addition to other factors such as a sedentary lifestyle – has led to an increase in serious health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Elevated blood pressure, otherwise known as Hypertension has become a real issue as well. Given the health risks which uncontrolled hypertension can cause, such as cardiovascular disease, increased risk of stroke and kidney damage, it is vital for us to be aware how much our diets can impact our daily health. And one area which can drastically affect our health is an imbalance in the amount of essential minerals our bodies are taking in.
Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium are part of the major mineral list which the body needs for healthy functioning. So let’s take a closer look at them with regard to how they affect blood pressure:
SODIUM – (NA)
Sodium Chloride (or Salt) takes the rap for being the Bad Boy in the plot!! Consuming too much salt has long been associated with contributing to high blood pressure. It does this by affecting the kidneys ability to remove excess fluid from the body. The kidneys rely on a delicate balance of sodium and potassium to work efficiently. With too much sodium in your body, this balance is disrupted which then leads to fluid retention. This causes increased blood pressure, as the heart has to work harder to circulate blood and the blood vessels react by constricting and becoming thicker and less pliable.
And Boom! – up goes your BP!!
So, it is important to be aware of how much sodium your diet contains and limit its consumption. Unfortunately most processed foods or fast foods are loaded with sodium (it’s added for taste, of course!) To get an idea of how overused salt is, it is estimated that the average American consumes three times the recommended amount of sodium per day.
That is a whopping 3400mg, when bodies such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association are suggesting an upper limit of 2300mg with an ideal amount of 1500mg per day. In the UK the average daily consumption of sodium is 3200mg, whilst in Australia the average consumption is 4000mg per day. So we can see this is a universal issue.
Something to note however is that the body does indeed need some sodium – it has a vital role to play as an electrolyte at the cellular level to facilitate nerve transmission and muscular function. So too little sodium will also present problems.
MAGNESIUM – (MG)
Magnesium plays an integral role in the proper functioning of 350 enzymes in the human body. Its role in maintaining healthy blood pressure is twofold. Firstly, it is instrumental in relaxing blood vessels and supporting healthy functioning of nerves and muscles, especially the heart muscle. Secondly, it is responsible for transporting potassium and calcium around the body.
Since these last two also have a role in maintaining healthy blood pressure, then it follows that if there is a magnesium deficiency, which according to Dr Carolyn Dean, M.D. in her book The Magnesium Miracle is on the increase, this will negatively impact the effectiveness of these other two minerals in helping to control BP levels.
CALCIUM – (CA)
In a sense Calcium plays the foil to Magnesium. They are counterparts with regard to their effect on the muscles and blood vessels. Whereas, as we have seen, Magnesium helps relax blood vessels, Calcium causes them to contract and tighten. In optimal concentrations Calcium can in fact have a positive influence on the muscle membranes and dilation of the blood vessels. But it has to be in balance with its counterpart magnesium, as well as with sodium, potassium and vitamins D and K2.
The suggested ratio of magnesium to calcium to maintain proper balance is 1:1, with 2:1 being considered optimal. Without sufficient magnesium, as Dr Dean says:
“your muscles go into spasm. Calcium causes muscle to contract. If you had a balance, the muscles would do their thing. They’d relax, contract, and create their activity”
Recommended Daily Quotas of Magnesium and Calcium:
- Mg – 400-420 mg/day for men and 310-320 mg/day for women. Best sources: avocados, seaweed and green leafy veggies, beans, nuts and some seeds – pumpkin, sunflower.
- Ca – 1000-1200 mg/day for men and 1200 mg/day for women. Best sources: dark leafy greens, low fat cheese, milk and yogurt, canned fish with bones, fortified soy products (Tofu) and almonds.
POTASSIUM – (K)
Potassium plays the Good Guy opposite Sodium in the BP story. Again it is a delicate balancing act. Whilst sodium causes vasoconstriction, or tightening of the small blood vessels, potassium’s role is to relax the vessels allowing easier circulation of blood around the body. This then helps keep blood pressure levels in check.
There have been a number of studies which have shown that increases in Potassium and lowering of Sodium intake have resulted in a drop in blood pressure. Significantly, this is particularly evident with hypertensive study subjects.
In addition, researchers have found that in more primitive societies e.g. the Yanomami Indians in Brazil, where the people eat a vegetable and fruit based diet so that the consumption of potassium is naturally higher and sodium intake naturally lower, there exists minimal high blood pressure issues, even amongst older members of the community.
Recommended Daily Quota of Potassium:
- K – 4700 mg/day. Best sources: bananas, avocados, white beans, dates, dried prunes, seeds (sunflower), potato and baked squash.
Whilst the idea of meeting the ideal daily requirements of these essential minerals may seem at bit daunting, here are some tips to help you along the way:
* pay careful attention to all food labels, especially the amount of sodium in the product.
- avoid all processed foods which rely heavily on salt for flavour, and eat healthy unprocessed foods.
- add your own salt to taste, using a whole (unrefined) salt such as Himalayan Rock Salt or sea salt. This way you can control the amount of sodium and also get important trace minerals which refined table salt doesn’t provide.
- choose natural food sources for your minerals. A useful list of foods high in Mg, K, Ca and low in Na can be found here
- aim for a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. The DASH Diet is one such diet which I reviewed in an earlier post.
I hope my look at these essential minerals was interesting – and might be of use in helping you to manage your blood pressure. As always I welcome your comments and feedback.