Along with enhanced blood pressure and reduced Boost Muscle Power and
risk of stroke, potassium bicarbonate helps . . .
The fundamental behavioral changes that occurred during the Stone Age between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago sparked the great human migration out of Africa.
By Will Block
Nature is the cure of illness. Leave thy drugs in the
chemist’s pot if thou can heal the patient with food.
—Hippocrates, 460–370 BC
We know what we are,
but know not what we may be.
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet
he fundamental behavioral changes that occurred during the Stone Age between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago sparked the great human migration out of Africa. How much of a role diet played in those changes is not known, but it is known that the diet of our Paleolithic (Stone Age) ancestors was significantly different than our own diet today. And the Paleolithic diet lasted as long as our ancestors remained hunter-gatherers, until the Neolithic Revolution 10,000 years ago. Yet the human genome has barely been altered since the beginning of the Stone Age.
While our bodies remain adapted to the foods consumed during Paleolithic times, we have been compromised—by the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry about 10,000 years ago—with diets that are frequently inconsistent with our needs and detrimental to our health. The consequences of these dietary changes have altered our resistance to disease, including the age-related loss of muscle (sarcopenia),* the substantial elevation of blood pressure (hypertension), and the higher risk of stroke.
The diet of our Stone Age ancestors
was significantly different than
our own diet today.
Fortunately, nutritional scientists are now finding that these terrible “diseases of civilization” can be slowed, stopped, or even reversed. And this can be achieved quite simply with the regular use of an inexpensive dietary supplement. As simple as this may sound, while the arguments are multifaceted, the outcomes include the abolition of many of the pathophysiological effects caused by the excesses of the modern diet!
Potassium Ingestion Was Much Higher in the Paleolithic Diet …
Of the changes to the Paleolithic “caveman” diet, a growing body of evidence has found that among the most significant differences is a complete inversion of the ratio of potassium and sodium in our diets. Back in the Stone Age, human potassium intake averaged about 15 grams/day! This far exceeds the current intake—with averages across all ages found to be 2.3–3.3 grams/day—by 4.5 to 6.5 times! Despite this, the current recommendation for the “adequate daily intake” of potassium—set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine and championed as well by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—is 4.7 grams/day. Thus, the potassium content of the average American adult diet is only 50–70% of the amount recommended, meaning that most Americans are officially deficient in potassium. And even the official recommendation is woefully inadequate according to Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw (see
“Potassium Bicarbonate Supplementation” in the April issue).
The regular use of a dietary
supplement can abolish many of
the pathophysiological effects caused
by the excesses of the modern diet!
Among the primarily reasons offered for low potassium levels is the fact that “the modern diet has substantially replaced Stone Age amounts of potassium-rich plant foods (especially fruits, leafy greens, vegetable fruits, roots, and tubers), with energy-dense nutrient-poor foods (separated fats, oils, refined sugars, and refined grains), and with potassium-poor energy-rich plant foods (especially cereal grains) introduced by agriculture (circa 10,000 years ago).”
… and Sodium Consumption was Much Lower
Compared to current consumption levels, the Paleolithic diet contained very little sodium, with the amount consumed merely a fraction of a gram/day. Yet according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average consumption of sodium in the American diet is 3.44 grams/day. This is due to the all-pervasive use of salt (sodium chloride) in just about every processed or prepared food, not to mention its ever presence in the kitchen and on the dining room table.
The potassium content of the average
American adult diet is only 50–70%
of the amount recommended,
meaning that most Americans are
officially deficient in potassium.
Across age-groups, our modern diet contains about 2.5–5 grams of sodium/day. Using Stone Age consumption estimates of 15 g for potassium and 0.6 g for sodium, and current consumption estimates of 2.8 for potassium and 3.5 for sodium, this means that the ratio of potassium to sodium in our diet has changed from a ratio of about 26.7 to about 0.8, a dramatic change toward far less potassium and far more sodium. Consistent with the timeclock of evolution, our kidneys have not evolved to deal with this kind of radically changed dietary ratio of potassium to sodium. Thus we may be losing too much potassium and retaining too much sodium with potentially serious consequences.
Consistent with the timeclock of
evolution, our kidneys have not
evolved to deal with this kind of
radically changed dietary ratio of
potassium to sodium.
Stone Agers in the Fast Lane
In absolute terms and as a ratio, these kind of changes veer outside the slow lane of the evolutionary norm, impervious to the way evolution works. But if we understand the underlying mechanism, we are better able to grasp the significance of these dietary changes. In general, American diets are acidogenic. Simply put, our diets render us net acid prone. This means that our diet is comprised of more acid forming nutrients; it is rich in net acid-producing protein and cereal grains, compared to its content of net alkali-producing fruit and vegetables. In contradistinction, our Stone Age ancestor’s diets were net base prone.
Potassium Bicarbonate May Be Taken with Meals
A study finding that potassium bicarbonate “reduces urine calcium excretion in adult humans, including patients with hypertension or calcium urolithiasis, and postmenopausal women” has found that the absorption of potassium bicarbonate is good when taken with food. The researchers wrote, “After qualifying for the study, we randomized subjects to placebo or KHCO3, either 30, 60, or 90 mmol/d, given in three divided doses with meals.” Of 201 women who started this study, which lasted three years, 170 were included in the analysis, indicative of a high degree of compliance. This is great news for those who have experienced stomach aches when taking the dietary supplement on an empty stomach.
- Frassetto L, Morris RC Jr, Sebastian A. Long-term persistence of the urine calcium-lowering effect of potassium bicarbonate in postmenopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2005 Feb;90(2):831-4.
With increased age, our kidneys lose their ability to excrete daily net acid loads, resulting in the development of mild but increasing acidosis. When we are young, our kidneys respond to metabolic acidosis by increasing renal net acid excretion in order to minimize alternation of the blood pH. However, the aging kidney is less able to excrete excess hydrogen ions and consequently, a progressive metabolic acidosis occurs in elderly individuals who are exposed to a continuous challenge from acid-producing diets. This condition has been associated with muscle wasting or breakdown, and eventually results in increased passage of calcium in the urine (calciuria) and losses of calcium. These effects of net acid production and increased body fluid acidity ultimately contribute to development of osteoporosis and renal stones, loss of muscle mass, and age-related renal insufficiency. Alkali-producing diets have been found to dramatically decrease net acid excretion and reverse the process.
From the view of our genes, we are Stone Age hunter-gatherers living in a world unlike that for which our genes were selected. Because of the slowness with which genes adapt, we are living in a lane that is far faster than that occupied by our Stone Age ancestors, and far more dangerous to our health.
Bicarbonate Enhances Net Base Production
A new study has concluded that potassium bicarbonate treatment can readily turn the tables on net acid production, which can lead to enhanced muscle performance in older women and possibly men. Other studies have shown that metabolic acidosis promotes protein degradation and nitrogen excretion and that alkaline-diets favor muscle in the elderly. Also, prior studies have shown that bicarbonate enhances muscle performance during intense exercise (albeit from sodium bicarbonate). But until now, no study has shown that bicarbonate (from potassium bicarbonate) can work to enhance core features of muscle power and endurance without rigorous exercise, during normal activity in the elderly.
A new study has concluded that
potassium bicarbonate treatment can
readily turn the tables on net acid
production, which can lead to
enhanced muscle performance in
older women and possibly men.
This new study investigated the effects of bicarbonate treatment for 3 months on net acid excretion (NAE), nitrogen excretion, and muscle performance in older men and women. Three actives were given alongside of placebo: potassium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and potassium chloride. Both bicarbonates reduced NAE, and the decrement was associated with a decrease in nitrogen excretion. Treatment also improved muscle power and endurance in the women. Only the bicarbonates (sodium and potassium) were found to produce these results, but not the potassium chloride.
The subjects (n=162) were healthy men and women and age 50 and older. The women were postmenopausal. They were divided into four groups and randomized to receive either 67.5 mmol of potassium bicarbonate,* 67.5 mmol of sodium bicarbonate or potassium chloride (no bicarbonate) or placebo daily for 3 months. The researchers measured changes in lower-extremity muscle power, endurance, urinary nitrogen, and NAE and compared the results.
But until now, no study has shown
that bicarbonate (from potassium
bicarbonate) can work to enhance
core features of muscle power and
endurance without rigorous exercise,
during normal activity in the elderly.
The bicarbonates were well tolerated, and as anticipated, significantly decreased NAE, a change which correlated with nitrogen excretion changes in both men and women. In the women, both bicarbonates increased double leg press power substantially, compared with no bicarbonate (potassium chloride) and improved other performance measures. This muscle performance enhancement was not found to be true for the men, possibly having to do with men’s greater muscle mass.
Bicarbonate supplementation decreased nitrogen excretion and improved muscle performance in healthy postmenopausal women. The bicarbonate-induced decline in NAE was associated with reduced nitrogen excretion in both men and women. The findings do not rule out the possibility that bicarbonate could not do the same for men, as it had done for women, i.e., lessen age-related loss of muscle performance and mass.
It is important to note that while both sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate proved their mettle, there are many studies showing that potassium in and of itself is beneficial and that it can reduce stroke (see
“Potassium Bicarbonate Supplementation” and
“Potassium Bicarbonate for Reduced Blood Pressure and Increased Muscle Mass” in the April issue). This is not true for sodium; in fact, the opposite may be true.
Overturning the dietary ratio of
potassium to sodium (compared with
preagricultural diets) may also be
adverse for endothelial function and
contribute to hypertension and stroke.
Inverting the Ratios of Potassium to Sodium
The overturning of the dietary ratio of potassium to sodium (compared with preagricultural diets) may also be adverse for endothelial function and contribute to hypertension and stroke. Fundamentally, there are several things that can be done to return the diet to its evolutionary norms of net-base production by inducing low grade metabolic alkalosis and a high potassium-to-sodium ratio:
- Greatly reduce energy-dense nutrient-poor foods and potassium-poor acid-producing cereal grains.
- Greatly increase consumption of potassium-rich net base-producing fruits and vegetables for maintenance of energy balance. The Paleolithic diet consisted of about 35% meat (containing more monounsaturated fat and less saturated fat) and about 65% plant food (containing more omega-3 fatty acids and far more fiber). As reported by The Institute of Medicine “. . . Fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens, vine fruit [aka, vegetable fruit, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, and pumpkin] and root vegetables, are good sources of potassium and bicarbonate precursors. Although meat, milk and cereal products contain potassium, they do not contain enough bicarbonate precursors to balance their acid-forming precursors, such as sulfur-containing amino acids.”
- Greatly reducing sodium chloride consumption.
And better yet, supplement with a potassium bicarbonate dietary supplement.
- Sebastian A, Frassetto LA, Sellmeyer DE, Morris RC Jr. The evolution-informed optimal dietary potassium intake of human beings greatly exceeds current and recommended intakes. Semin Nephrol 2006 Nov;26(6):447-53.
- Alaimo K, McDowell MA, Briefel RR, Bischof AM, Caughman CR, Loria CM, Johnson CL. Dietary intake of vitamins, minerals, and fiber of persons ages 2 months and over in the United States: Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Phase 1, 1988-91. Adv Data 1994 Nov 14;(258):1-28.
- Eaton SB, Eaton SB 3rd, Konner MJ, Shostak M. An evolutionary perspective enhances understanding of human nutritional requirements. J Nutr 1996 Jun;126(6):1732-40.
- Dawson-Hughes B, Harris SS, Ceglia L. Alkaline diets favor lean tissue mass in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2008 March ; 87(3): 662–5.
- Dawson-Hughes B, Castaneda-Sceppa C, Harris SS, Palermo NJ, Cloutier G, Ceglia L, Dallal GE. Impact of supplementation with bicarbonate on lower-extremity muscle performance in older men and women. Osteoporos Int 2009 Sep 1. [Epub ahead of print]
- Douroudos II, Fatouros IG, Gourgoulis V, Jamurtas AZ, Tsitsios T, Hatzinikolaou A, Margonis K, Mavromatidis K, Taxildaris K Dose-related effects of prolonged NaHCO3 ingestion during high-intensity exercise. 2006 Med Sci Sports Exerc 38:1746–53.
- Edge J, Bishop D, Goodman C. The effects of training intensity on muscle buffer capacity in females. 2006 Eur J Appl Physiol 96:97–105
- Nagata C, Takatsuka N, Shimizu N, Shimizu H. Sodium intake and risk of death from stroke in Japanese men and women. Stroke 2004 Jul;35(7):1543-7.
Will Block is the publisher and editorial director of Life Enhancement magazine.