New research shows a potential protective role of potassium on kidney function.
Diabetes is a growing problem. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate there are 29.1 million diabetics in America.
Worryingly, the CDC also predict that this number will double or triple over the next few decades. If that forecast is correct, between 1 in 3 and 1 in 5 Americans may be diabetic by 2050.
Although obesity is known to be a major factor, the search is on for other dietary risk factors that might be easier to correct.
Controlling diet in diabetes is an essential part of the treatment plan, and low-sodium and reduced-calorie diets are the most commonly recommended.
The standard diet that clinicians advise for diabetics is essentially a healthy, well-balanced diet with an extra focus on reducing salt.
Renal and cardiovascular problems in diabetes
Type 2 diabetes significantly increases an individual's chance of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Hyperglycemia (excess blood glucose), hypertension (high blood pressure) and dyslipidemia (excess lipids in the blood) are well-known risk factors for both ESRD and CVD.
In the general population, potassium is recognized as a means to prevent hypertension and stroke. However, its effects on ESRD and CVD onset are not well investigated, especially within a diabetic population with healthy cardiovascular and kidney function.
The role of potassium
Potassium is a vital mineral involved in the normal functioning of all the cells, tissues and organs of the body. Along with sodium, chloride, calcium and magnesium, potassium is a charged particle referred to as an electrolyte.
Potassium helps conduct nerve impulses, regulate the rhythm of the heart and control muscle contraction. It also plays a part in maintaining bone health and fluid balance.
One of the kidney's many roles is to ensure that potassium is maintained at the correct levels. Too much or too little can be equally troublesome.
Research conducted by Dr. Shin-ichi Araki, at Shiga University of Medical Science in Japan, hopes to open new avenues of investigation into the relationship between dietary potassium and negative health consequences in diabetic patients.
Diet in diabetes
Dr. Araki's research, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, claims that diets rich in potassium may help protect the heart and kidney health of patients with type 2 diabetes.
The trial involved 623 Japanese type 2 diabetics, none of whom were currently using diuretic medicines or had any history of CVD. The patients were enrolled between 1996 and 2003 with a median follow-up period of 11 years.
This long-term study measured potassium and sodium excretion through urine sampling. The amount of these elements excreted in urine is an accurate indicator of the amount consumed.
The results showed that higher levels of potassium in the participants' urine indicated a lower risk of renal dysfunction and cardiovascular problems. Sodium excretion, on the other hand, showed no correlation.
The authors agree with recommendations to restrict energy intake, as is standard practice with diabetic patients, but Dr. Araki warns that a low-calorie, low-sodium diet may also be deficient in potassium.
He is well aware of the difficulties surrounding a diabetic's dietary choices:
"For many individuals with diabetes, the most challenging part of a treatment plan is to determine what to eat."
Dr. Araki believes that raising potassium in diabetes diet plans might prevent ESRD and CVD from developing in individuals, or at least slow its advance.
These results are in line with other recent research that has linked higher dietary potassium intake with lower incidence of kidney dysfunction and CVD in non-diabetic patients.
Dr. Araki warns, however, that the present study is not conclusive evidence of potassium's protective effects on diabetic kidneys. The aim of the study was to spur on further investigation into novel targets for future dietary recommendations, and in that regard, the trial was a success.
It is also worth noting that hyperkalemia - elevated levels of potassium in the blood - is a dangerous condition that affects some diabetics. Medical News Today recently reported on a new drug that might help improve potassium levels in diabetic kidneys.