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Forty young subjects, aged 18 to 28 years, with mildly elevated blood pressure participated in a double-blind randomized three-period crossover study of the effect of sodium restriction with and without potassium supplementation on blood pressure. Dietary sodium intake was restricted for 18 weeks in which the patients received in random sequence 'slow-sodium' (90 mmol/day), 'slow-potassium' (72 mmol/day), and placebo tablets, each for 6 weeks. Mean urinary sodium excretion was 129 mmol/24 h in the slow-sodium period, 57 mmol/24 h during placebo, and 69 mmol/24 h during slow-potassium. Mean supine systolic blood pressure in the sixth week of the slow-potassium period was 3.3 mmHg lower than that at the end of the slow-sodium period (P<0.05). There was no significant difference in systolic or diastolic blood pressure between the placebo and the slow-sodium periods. The fall in systolic blood pressure in the low sodium/high potassium period was accompanied by a fall in cardiac index of 0.4 l/min per m2 body surface area (BSA) (P=0.03). Our observations suggest a small hypotensive effect of moderate sodium restriction combined with high potassium intake in young hypertensive subjects. Sodium restriction alone has little effect on blood pressure in this group. The combination of a low sodium/high potassium diet may lower blood pressure by affecting cardiac output. Reducing the dietary sodium:potassium ratio may therefore be useful in the management of early primary hypertension.