Potassium in the diet may play an important role in helping the body excrete salt and ward off high blood pressure, suggests research published Thursday.

The research, when combined with evidence from epidemiological surveys of large population groups, strengthens the belief that too little potassium could be a cause of hypertension.In the latest study, doctors compared the blood pressures of 10 healthy people on very low-potassium diets and diets with normal amounts of this nutrient.

"When these people ate diets low in potassium, their blood pressures went up. One of the main reasons seems to be related to sodium excretion. When not eating enough potassium, they could not get rid of enough sodium," said Dr. G. Gopal Krishna.

Krishna, a researcher at Temple University in Philadelphia, directed the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Krishna said more research will be needed before making new recommendations about what should eat to hold down blood pressure.