By Dr. Mercola
If you're fairly familiar with the vitamins and minerals in the most common fruits and vegetables, you may be aware that in bananas and avocados, potassium and magnesium are notable ingredients in both of them. Like all foods, these two powerhouse fruits (because both are fruits rather than avocados being a vegetable) have many other things to offer, but scientists have recently announced that both foods have the potential to prevent heart attacks.
The research was conducted at the University of Alabama and was published in the journal JCI Insight.1 In fact, scientists have revealed that if you eat a banana and an avocado every day, you could eat yourself right into protection from heart disease, or more specifically, the atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries that often leads to a series of disorders, NDTV2 reported.
Additionally, it may also lower your risk of arterial blockages, which often necessitate surgery. It's the potassium in these foods that can alleviate a large part of the burden, the study indicates. The animal study found it reduces vascular calcification, one of the complications of kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.
Mice were fed alternate diets containing low, normal or high levels of potassium, and those with the highest levels had substantially more pliable arteries, while those given lower amounts had much harder arteries. It works the same way in humans. When you include foods in your diet that contain good amounts of these minerals, these symptoms are alleviated, particularly the stiffness in arteries seen as a precursor to cardiovascular problems.
Problems occur because the stiffness in arteries can cause your heart to work harder to pump blood through your body. Artery calcification is just one of the problems that having a consistent amount of adequate potassium in your diet can help prevent, and all of them are serious and related conditions:
- Heart disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
Calcification and What It Means for Your Arteries
Calcification is a buildup of calcium in your tissues, organs or blood vessels. As it's in the process of forming, it can call a halt to the necessary process that keeps your body working as it should. According to Difference Between:
"Arteriosclerosis is a defect occurring in the artery (blood vessels carrying oxygenated blood) walls. It refers to hardening of the normally flexible walls due to loss of elasticity of the arterial musculature. When young, the arteries are flexible due to the presence of a protein called elastin.
As age advances, there is loss of this elastin causing thickening of the arterial walls. Atherosclerosis is another condition that refers to the deposition of fat plaques and cholesterol globules within the arteries causing narrowing of the lumen of the arteries."3
The scientists noted that vascular smooth muscle cells, or VSMCs, contribute to vascular calcification in atherosclerosis and that "Arterial stiffness has become an independent predictor of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, representing an important health problem for the nation as a whole."4
According to their research, vascular calcification may be more culpable in aortic stiffening than scientists originally thought. In fact, a 2009 study is even titled "Vascular calcification: the killer of patients with chronic kidney disease."5 The study noted:
"Previously considered a passive, unregulated, and degenerative process occurring in the arterial media, vascular calcification has now been demonstrated to be a highly regulated process of osteochondrogenic differentiation of vascular cells."6 Further, VSMCs were found to produce "extracellular matrix proteins" that actually caused the arterial calcification process to happen faster.
People With Less Potassium Have Higher Risks
It's no secret to the scientists that potassium plays a crucial role in staving off arterial calcification and related diseases. In fact, previous studies have made it clear that the association between low blood potassium levels and death from either chronic kidney disease7 or metabolic syndrome,8 while clear, hasn't been investigated thoroughly. The study made something else clear: that "appropriate dietary potassium intake improves those pathological conditions."9
The researchers also noted that, whereas the direct influence of dietary potassium on the development of vascular calcification in atherosclerosis hadn't yet been "established and characterized," for the first time they'd been able to produce evidence that potassium was the key. While consuming too much of it can cause problems, too, such as a stomachache, nausea and/or diarrhea, according to International Business (IB) Times,10 it's clear that what you eat directly influences your risk of these serious diseases.
That's why, for these diseases, especially, bananas and avocados are two of the foods containing the potassium that can lower your risk. In response to the study's findings, Dr. Mike Knapton from the British Heart Foundation observed that "With more research, we might be able to see if the disease forms in humans in a similar way and develop treatments."11
Magnesium and Potassium: Interrelationships in Regard to Health
When it comes to maintaining a healthy heart, as well as properly functioning kidneys, nerves and muscles and blood pressure regulation, having an adequate intake of magnesium on a regular basis is key. Because it's the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, on which more than 600 functions hinge, getting the right amount to avoid a deficiency is critical.12 But there's more to it than that. The National Academy of Sciences assessed the role of several nutrients, including magnesium, and observed:
"Magnesium has been called 'nature's physiological calcium channel blocker.' During magnesium depletion, intracellular calcium rises. Since calcium plays an important role in skeletal and smooth muscle contraction, a state of magnesium depletion may result in muscle cramps, hypertension, and coronary and cerebral vasospasms.
Magnesium depletion is found in a number of diseases of cardiovascular and neuromuscular function, in malabsorption syndromes, in diabetes mellitus, in renal wasting syndromes, and in alcoholism."13
"Classic" symptoms of low magnesium include muscle spasms, unexplained fatigue, irregular heart rhythms, eye twitches and even anxiety, but those that can be difficult to spot until after it's established that low magnesium levels are what's causing the problems. Studies show that problems such as asthma and osteoporosis may also be involved, along with symptoms that indicate possible related deficiencies, including potassium.
In response, experts recommend that individuals with these symptoms assume that low levels are likely the problem and begin remedying it immediately by concentrating on higher magnesium intake, either through supplementation or food, and maybe both. One of many reasons is that the body begins stripping magnesium and calcium from your bones during what is called "functioning" low magnesium. Ancient Minerals explains:
"This effect can cause a doubly difficult scenario: seemingly adequate magnesium levels that mask a true deficiency coupled by ongoing damage to bone structures. Thus experts advise the suspicion of magnesium deficiency whenever risk factors for related conditions are present, rather than relying upon tests or overt symptoms alone."14
One study shows that intracellular concentrations of magnesium and potassium are closely correlated, and the ratios in your cells are what's important, not the concentrations, and hypokalemia, aka low potassium, "can be induced by the same mechanisms and are often clinically related to one another,"15 especially as they relate to cardiac arrhythmias and, arguably, other heart-related disorders and diseases.
The upside is that when you begin ingesting adequate potassium and magnesium — bananas and avocados would be a great start — the above symptoms can be reversed, i.e., regulation of blood sugar, better sleep, less stress, improved mitochondrial function and increased energy.
Bananas: An Example of the Adage 'You Are What You Eat'
Bananas are a very popular tropical food, known for being an easy-to-carry snack that doesn't require refrigeration and can remain clean while you eat it thanks to its convenient peel. Besides high amounts of potassium, one fairly small banana (about 101 grams) provides a good amount of fiber, Nutrition Data16 reports. Vitamin B6 and vitamin C are also plentiful, as are proteins, copper and manganese.
You'll want to watch your sugar intake, however, as bananas are an example of a fruit with high amounts of natural fructose; one 7-inch-long banana has 12.4 grams. However, just as the potassium content is good for you, IB Times lists a number of advantages to adding a small banana as a snack choice (or dozens of dishes that incorporate them):
- Bananas help balance your blood sugar level because they don't raise your glycemic index.
- Unripe bananas have proven beneficial for people with insulin sensitivity as they contain 15 to 30 grams of digestive-resistant starch.
- Eating bananas can help maintain a healthy blood pressure level.
- High-potassium foods can help lower your risk of developing kidney stones.17
Bananas are a wonderful addition to smoothies, making them creamy and delivering a tropical vibe, but they're also great sliced with organic raw nut butter, aside from just enjoying one for a healthy snack.
Avocados: Impressive Nutritional Profile
A single avocado provides very impressive nutrients that positively impact nearly every part of your body, but especially your heart and arteries. Fiber is a big one, as well as vitamin C, vitamin K and folate. To start the litany of how well avocados reach your dietary reference intakes (DRI), or how much you need to provide you with the optimal amounts, Nutrition Data18 provides data on the major nutrients one avocado contains and the percentage of daily values:
Fiber — 54 percent
Folate — 41 percent
Vitamin C — 33 percent
Vitamin B6 —26 percent
Vitamin K — 53 percent
Pantothenic acid — 28 percent
Magnesium — 15 percent
Potassium — 28 percent
Avocado slices are excellent on sandwiches and salads, topped with mozzarella, basil and black pepper, mixed with salsa and chopped papaya or with poached eggs.
Other foods containing magnesium include greens such as spinach, romaine lettuce and Swiss chard, crucifers like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, seeds and nuts, fatty fish, such as mackerel and wild-caught Alaskan salmon, specific spices such as fennel, basil, cloves, chives and cilantro, fruits including papaya, watermelon, raspberries and strawberries, and grass fed yogurt.
Good potassium sources include beet greens, carrots, cantaloupe, oranges and most of the foods listed above. If you've experienced any of the symptoms listed, upping your intake of these foods can likely improve them and may serve to relieve other problems as well.