Dietary Potassium May Protect Kidneys, Heart in Type 2 Diabetes

People with Type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of developing kidney and heart disease, but according to preliminary new research from Japan, diets rich in potassium may help protect these organs. Approximately 29 million people in the United States and 6.9 million people in Japan are living with Type 2 diabetes.

Potassium plays an important role in the body, allowing cells, tissues, and organs to function and helping to conduct electrical signals. In people without diabetes, this mineral is known to help prevent high blood pressure and stroke. To determine whether sodium and potassium intake are associated with kidney failure and cardiovascular disease in those with diabetes, the researchers studied 623 people with Type 2 who had normal kidney function and no history of heart disease. At the start of the study, the participants, who were enrolled between 1996 and 2003, provided urine samples to be measured for sodium and potassium levels — an indicator of the amount of these minerals in the diet. They were followed until 2013 for a median (midpoint) of 11 years to see whether they would develop kidney or cardiovascular conditions.

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The researchers found that higher levels of potassium in the urine were associated with a slower reduction of kidney function and reduced rate of heart complications. Sodium levels were not linked with kidney or heart health.

“For many individuals with diabetes, the most challenging part of a treatment plan is to determine what to eat,” notes study author Shin-ichi Araki, MD, PhD. “The results in our study highlight the importance of a diet high in diabetes nutrition therapy.”

The study shows possible avenues for further research into dietary recommendations, but the authors warn that it does not provide conclusive evidence of the protective effects of potassium on kidneys. Additionally, hyperkalemia, a dangerous elevation of potassium levels in the blood, is known to affect some people with diabetes. The researchers are planning further trials to investigate the effects of dietary potassium in people with diabetes.

For more information, read the article “Potassium-rich diets could protect diabetic patients’ kidneys” or see the study’s abstract in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. And for more information about the role of potassium diabetes, see “The Power of Potassium,” by certified diabetes educator and registered dieititian Amy Campbell.

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