Low potassium levels may be reason for type 2 diabetes disparity among African Americans and Caucasians

African Americans are almost twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes than Caucasians, according to the American Diabetes Association. Now, a new study has shown that potassium levels may be one of the leading causes of this disparity.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that African Americans tend to have significantly lower levels of potassium in their blood than Caucasians. This may be one of the leading reasons why they also have much higher rates of type 2 diabetes.

Several previous studies showed that low potassium levels significantly increase the risk for diabetes. Increasingly, medical professionals are coming to recognize this as a major risk factor for diabetes.

For the study, researchers examined the results of previously published investigations that collected data on potassium intake and diabetes rates. All of the data were collected between 1987 and 1996. The average potassium levels among the African Americans in the study were significantly lower than average levels among Caucasians. Additionally, African Americans developed type 2 diabetes at double the rate.

"This research doesn't mean people should run out and start taking potassium supplements," said Hsin-Chieh "Jessica" Yeh, who led 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."

She added that if these findings are confirmed by future studies, a potassium test may be used to determine a patient's risk for developing type 2 diabetes. It could potentially diagnose the condition in its early stages, allowing individuals to make lifestyle changes that could help them avoid diabetes complications.