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Potassium loss from blood pressure drugs may cause diabetes

A reduction in potassium levels caused by diuretics may be why people on diuretics are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study. Diuretics are commonly prescribed for high blood pressure as they increase loss of fluids, however they also reduce potassium levels.

People who take diuretics are generally advised to eat bananas and other potassium-rich foods to counteract the effect.

The potassium loss study

Researchers studied 3,790 non diabetic people in the Systolic Hypertension in Elderly Program (SHEP). Half were treated with chlorthalidone (a diuretic) and half with a placebo.

The results showed that for each 0.5 milliequivalent-per-liter (MEq/L) decrease in serum potassium, there was a 45% increased risk of diabetes. None of the people in the group receiving the placebo developed low potassium levels.

The researchers comments

Lead researcher Tariq Shafi at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said, “Previous studies have told us that when patients take diuretic thiazides, potassium levels drop and the risk of diabetes climbs to 50%. This study shows us that as long as physicians monitor and regulate potassium levels, thiazides could be used safely, saving patients thousands of dollars a year.”

He added, “It could be as simple as increasing the consumption of potassium-rich foods like bananas and oranges and/or reducing salt intake, both of which will keep potassium from dropping.”

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