Study: Potassium levels may be insight to racial disparity among diabetics

NEW YORK — Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered that potassium levels in the blood may explain a racial disparity among Type 2 diabetes patients.

According to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, among 12,000 participants, more than 2,000 African-Americans in the study had lower average serum potassium levels than the more than 9,000 whites in the study. They also were twice as likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.

What's more, the researchers noted, serum potassium appeared to be a novel risk factor for the disorder that may explain some of the racial disparity in diabetes risk.

The data was collected from the "Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study," information collected from 1987 and 1996.

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

Nearly 13% of African-Americans older than 20 years are living with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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