Bananas and avocados — foods that are rich in potassium — may help protect against pathogenic vascular calcification, also known as hardening of the arteries.
Researchers have shown, for the first time, that reduced dietary potassium promotes elevated aortic stiffness, as compared with normal-potassium-fed mice.
Such arterial stiffness in humans is predictive of heart disease and death from heart disease, and it represents an important health problem for the nation.
The researchers also found that increased dietary potassium levels lessened vascular calcification and aortic stiffness.
Furthermore, they unraveled the molecular mechanism underlying the effects of low or high dietary potassium.
Such knowledge of how vascular smooth muscle cells in the arteries regulate vascular calcification emphasizes the need to consider dietary intake of potassium in the prevention of vascular complications of atherosclerosis.
It also provides new targets for potential therapies to prevent or treat atherosclerotic vascular calcification and arterial stiffness.
Working from living mice down to molecular events in cells, the researchers determined a causative link between reduced dietary potassium and vascular calcification in atherosclerosis, as well as uncovered the underlying pathogenic mechanisms.
The team found that the mice fed a low-potassium diet had a significant increase in vascular calcification. In contrast, the mice fed a high-potassium diet had markedly inhibited vascular calcification.
Also, the low-potassium mice had increased stiffness of their aortas, and high-potassium mice had decreased stiffness.
“The findings demonstrate the benefit of adequate potassium supplementation on prevention of vascular calcification in atherosclerosis-prone mice, and the adverse effect of low potassium intake.”