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Potassium may be key to diabetes disparity

BALTIMORE, March 5 (UPI) -- Lower blood potassium levels may be why African-Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than whites, U.S. researchers say.

"This research doesn't mean people should run out and start taking potassium supplements," Hsin-Chieh "Jessica" Yeh, an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

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"But we now know lower serum potassium is an independent risk factor for diabetes and that African-Americans have, on average, lower potassium levels than whites. What remains to be seen is if increasing potassium levels through diet or supplementation can prevent the most common form of diabetes."

Yeh and colleagues analyzed data from more than 12,000 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, collected from 1987 to 1996.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found more than 2,000 African-Americans in the study had lower average serum potassium levels -- found in food such as bananas, melons, lentils and yogurt -- than the more than 9,000 whites in the study. They also were twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes. In addition, diabetes increased among study participants as potassium levels went down, the study said.

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Yeh said previous research has shown African-Americans get less potassium in their diets than whites in the United States -- on average half of the recommended 4,700 milligrams per day.

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