Potassium Overview, Health Benefits, Source Food, Deficiency, Side effects

Potassium Overview, Health Benefits, Source Food, Deficiency, Side effects

Potassium Overview

The mineral potassium is an essential mineral which must be consumed in the diet. It performs many essential functions in the human body; it is also one of the most abundant minerals found in the human body. The mineral potassium contains the components for maintaining a high level of well-being and an improved lifestyle. The total content of potassium in a person weighing 150-pounds is approximately 250 grams or nine ounces. Potassium is essential to the functioning of many important cellular enzyme systems. This mineral is also vital for proper nerve excitation and contraction in muscular tissues.

However, potassium is often taken for granted, in spite of its role in maintaining fluid balance, and keeping your brain, nerves, heart, and muscles functioning normally on a constant basis.

It’s important to eat enough potassium every day to feel your best, and to help prevent certain chronic conditions. Falling short on potassium on a regular basis could jeopardize your long-term health in more ways that one.

Deficiency Symptoms of Potassium

Deficiency of any nutrient in the body is undesirable and potassium is not an exception. A diet deficient in potassium may lead to symptoms like fatigue and muscle weakness.

Low potassium is associated with a risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, and infertility. For people with low potassium, doctors sometimes recommend improved diets -- or potassium supplements -- to prevent or treat some of these conditions.

Pathological disorders such as very high blood pressure can result from the presence of excess sodium in the diet. What is not normally publicized is the real ability of potassium to negate the effect of the sodium ions in the elevation of blood pressure above normal. An experimental diet with extra potassium was fed to laboratory rats in extensive animal experiments that also involved an intake of excess sodium - potassium was found to lower the blood sodium levels in the body of the tested animals while extending their life span.

Potassium deficiencies are more common in people who:

  • Use certain medicines, such as diuretics and certain birth control pills
  • Have physically demanding jobs
  • Are athletes
  • Have health conditions that affect their digestive absorption, such as Crohn's disease
  • Have an eating disorder
  • Smoke
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Eating a lot of licorice has also been known to induce very severe depletion of blood potassium levels. A rapid drop in the blood levels of potassium can arise from persistent and acute stress as well as severe physical or mental trauma, at the same time a very rapid potassium loss is also evident in the immediate period following a major surgical procedure - all these events can severely affect the tolerance of the body to high glucose levels.

Good food sources of Potassium

Good natural sources of the mineral potassium include fruits such as bananas and all fresh fruits, vegetables such as lettuce, squash and broccoli, potatoes and unsalted peanuts, wheat germ, all kinds of nuts and citrus juices including orange juice.

Also, you can get an ample amount of potassium from salmon, chicken, whole milk, fresh fruit juices and almonds. Apart from those, nuts, lime beans, potatoes and poultry are other products to be included in the potassium boosting list.

Other great sources include:

  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Avocados
  • Fresh fruits (bananas, oranges, and strawberries)
  • Orange juice
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, and dates)
  • Spinach
  • Beans and peas

How much potassium should you eat? 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 4,700 milligrams per day for healthy people. The easiest way to get this amount is by adding high-potassium fruits and vegetables to your diet.

It's possible to get too much of a good thing, though. Ask your doctor before starting a potassium supplement.

Most people shouldn't have any problems from eating a high-potassium diet or taking potassium supplements as directed. If you have kidney failure or other kidney problems, check with your doctor about how much potassium you should get.

Some medications can raise potassium levels, including spironolactone (Aldactone), triamterene, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), and some ACE inhibitors.

Some diuretics for heart failure can make you lose potassium in your urine. If you are taking a diuretic, it's important to have your potassium levels checked, and repleted as needed. You can put it back by taking a supplement or eating more potassium-rich foods.

Health benefits of Potassium

Potassium doesn't treat or prevent heart disease. But getting enough potassium can help the heart in several ways:

Health benefits of Potassium: Better blood pressure

In a study of people with high blood pressure, taking potassium supplements lowered systolic blood pressure -- the top number -- by about 8 points. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods can help cut systolic blood pressure by more than 10 points in people with high blood pressure. You shouldn’t take potassium pills unless your doctor recommends it.

Health benefits of Potassium: Metabolism

Potassium assists in the metabolic processing of various nutrients like fats and carbohydrates. Thus, potassium is of great value in extracting the energy from nutrients that are consumed. Studies have shown that potassium is also integral in the synthesis of proteins, which have an impact of tissue regeneration, cell growth, and an overall balanced metabolism.

Health benefits of Potassium: Cholesterol

There's no direct link between potassium and cholesterol. But many diets that lower cholesterol are also high in potassium. So when you get enough potassium, you'll probably eat more fruits and veggies, which are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. This will help your cholesterol levels and lower your chance of developing heart disease.

Health benefits of Potassium: Muscular Strength

One of the most useful benefits of potassium is its role in ensuring the proper growth of muscle tissues and the proper utilization of energy released during metabolism, which adds significantly to muscular strength. The muscles, including those all-important cardiac muscles, are prone to paralysis due to a deficiency of potassium in a person’s diet.

Health benefits of Potassium: Muscle disorders

Potassium plays an important role in regular muscle contraction. A sufficient concentration of potassium is required for the regular contraction and relaxation of muscles. Most of the potassium ions in the human body are located in the muscle cells. It maintains optimal muscle and nerve function, and helps to keep our reflexes fast because it stimulates the neural connectivity of muscles and the brain!

Health benefits of Potassium: Heart rhythms problems

Potassium enables your heart to beat. So, if you have heart rhythm problems, potassium may be key. Your doctor can advise you on that. A potassium check might be part of your routine doctor visits.

Health benefits of Potassium: Bone Health

The benefits of potassium even extend to improving the health of your bones. There are certain qualities of potassium which neutralize various acids throughout the body which retain and preserve calcium, making it inaccessible to use for bone strength and durability.

Health benefits of Potassium: Anxiety and Stress

Potassium is of great importance for people suffering from undesirable mental states like anxiety and stress. It is considered as a powerful stress buster and therefore ensures the efficient mental performance of the human body. Anxiety and stress are so detrimental to other parts of health that any bonus from things like potassium are considered a very good idea if you suffer from chronic stress. Potassium can help regulate various hormones in your body, including stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, excess amounts of which can be quite detrimental to a wide array of the body’s systems.

Health benefits of Potassium: Brain function

Potassium channels play a key role in maintaining the electrical conductivity of the brain and dramatically affect brain function. It is also involved in higher brain function like memory and learning. In addition to this, serious ailments like epilepsy are related to the dysfunction of potassium channels that can occur through potassium deficiency.  There are actually potassium currents that play a major role in mammalian neurones. These channels are interconnected with a vast array of neural function and can help moderate and regulate electrical currents throughout the body.

Health benefits of Potassium: Water Balance

Another significant role that potassium plays is in the maintenance of an optimal fluid balance in the human body. Different types of cells require a proper water balance for efficient functioning and potassium aids these cells in regulating the balance. Fluid balance keeps all of our organ systems functioning in one way or the other, which is why many people recommend eating bananas after athletic events, or after a heavy night of drinking, in order to rehydrate and optimize fluid balance.

Health benefits of Potassium: Electrolytes

Potassium is also a great electrolyte in the human body. It helps in regulating the level of fluids in the body and thus aids in a number of critical body functions. Furthermore, electrolytes help to transmit electrical charges throughout the body from the brain and nervous system, so extra electrolytes keep everything functioning faster and more efficiently in the body.

In connection to the previous point about electrolytes, potassium helps to boost the efficiency of nerve reflexes that transmit message from one body part to another. This in turn helps in muscle contraction to perform various activities every day without tiring quickly, which are further benefited by potassium, which is required to induce muscle contraction and function.

Potassium Side effects and cautions

At normal doses, potassium is fairly safe. It may cause an upset stomach. Some people have allergies to potassium supplements.

Excess potassium in the body, for example, from patients with kidney issues that cannot properly process potassium, may have dangerously high levels. This can lead to heart disease, muscle paralysis, trouble breathing, tingling in the hands and feet, heart arrhythmia, and nausea. Potassium can be a miraculous addition to certain diets, but always be careful that you don’t overdo, and if you choose to take potassium supplements on top of a change to your diet, consult your doctor first.

The stomach is irritated during periods of high potassium intake - as can occur after the consumption of several hundred milligrams of the mineral at one time in the form of tablets. The use of potassium chloride containing medications must be avoided by all patients who are using potassium sparing medications of any kind - these medications include products like Morton Salt Substitute, products like “No Salt,” “Lite Salt,” and other similar products. In individuals who use potassium sparing diuretic medications even the consumption of several pieces of fruit daily can at times induce problems - this is simply to because of the abundant potassium found in most fruits.

People with kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, Addison's disease, stomach ulcers, or other health problems should never take potassium supplements without talking to a doctor first.

Signs of a potassium overdose include confusion, tingling sensation in the limbs, low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, weakness, and coma. Get emergency medical help immediately.