Potassium (K) is the most essential cation (positively charged electrolyte.) It reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell.
It is necessary for normal kidney function and it also plays a part in heart and bone health with a particular role in smooth muscle contraction. The heart muscle must maintain a smooth and regular heartbeat and correct levels of potassium in the body will help regulate this.
Some studies are indicating that low dietary potassium intake is linked to high blood pressure and that combined with calcium and magnesium rich foods can go a long way to preventing this condition from developing.
A balance of potassium, calcium and magnesium is essential to maintain bone mass and a deficiency is linked to osteoporosis.
Who might be deficient in Potassium?
With a normal healthy and balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables there should be no reason for a person to be deficient in potassium.
- The elderly are more at risk, as total body potassium levels deplete with age.
- Also anyone who is taking certain prescribed medication may find their potassium levels dropping, particularly if they are taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure.
- There may be a deficit of potassium in people who store iron in excess amounts such as in the disease hemochromatosis (iron is stored in the liver and builds up causing a number of serious health conditions.
- Taking over the counter medication such as antacids or laxatives can also cause a loss of too much potassium.
- Insulin is another drug that can cause a decrease in potassium and therefore diabetics must watch their diet carefully to ensure that they are receiving sufficient.
- There are occasional problems that might deplete the mineral’s stores such as a stomach upsets with diarrhoea and vomiting, excessive exercise resulting in heavy sweating, crash dieting and taking diuretics.
- Drinking lots of tea and coffee can also increase the amount of potassium excreted in the urine.
- It is also important that you take in sufficient amounts of magnesium rich foods to balance the levels of potassium in the body.
What happens when levels of Potassium are out of balance in the body.
If you have too much potassium in your blood it is called hyperkalemia and too little is called hypokalemia.
Hyperkalemia might be caused by a number of factors including suffering severe burns, undergoing chemotherapy or severe muscle loss through illness. There are a number of conditions that inhibit the normal excretion of potassium in the urine and these include kidney failure and a problem with the adrenal glands.
The adrenal gland makes a hormone called aldosterone that signals the body to excrete or conserve potassium based on the bodies needs and in hyperkalemia there may be less hormone produced or excreted.
Symptoms of too much potassium in your blood might be tingling in fingers and toes, muscle weakness and numbness. It can lead to irregular heartbeats and further heart problems if not treated.
Hypokalemia is more common as this is often dietary related. It can also be a result of a problem in the adrenal glands but in this case it is when the hormone aldosterone is retained causing the kidneys to conserve the potassium instead of excreting it.
The symptoms of too little potassium would include muscle pain, irritability, weakness and possibly paralysis.
There are some studies that are linking deficiency of potassium to a number of medical conditions including increased risk of stroke. Certainly in patients who already have elevated blood pressure, including dietary potassium seems to reduce the risk of stroke, but not apparently if it is given in supplementation form.
Another condition, which can result in potassium deficiency, is Inflammatory Bowel disease such as colitis or Crohn’s disease. In this case it is usual to supplement with the mineral, but only under medical supervision. A diet high in potassium will help, as foods like bananas are also very soothing for intestinal problems.
Other studies show that children who suffer from asthma and therefore have poor lung function may have diets that are too low in potassium, and there may be an improvement by increasing the amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish in their diet.
If you feel that you might be suffering from a potassium deficiency a simple blood test and examination will identify the problem. It is treated with a combination of diet and supplementation but these should only be taken under medical supervision to ensure the correct dosage is given and that there are no interactions with any medications.
If you are currently taking NSAIDs such as ibuprofen you should not take potassium supplements without medical advice. This applies to ACE inhibitors (elevated blood pressure), diuretics, Heparin (blood clots), Cyclosporine (anti-rejection drug) Trimethoprim (anti-biotic) and Beta Blockers (high blood pressure). All these drugs can increase the levels of potassium in your blood leading to potential health issues.
Dietary sources of Potassium
There are a wide variety of foods that you can include in your daily diet that will supply you with adequate amounts of potassium.
It is found in most fresh fruit and vegetables including:
- Brussel sprouts,
- kiwi fruit,
- prune juice,
- Low salt alternatives
If you combine these foods with magnesium and calcium rich foods your body will adjust the balance of potassium it needs to keep your heart and kidneys healthy.
I hope you have found this helpful and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.. thanks Sally.
©Sally Cronin Just Food For Health 1998 – 2018
My nutritional background
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
You can find all my books here with links to Amazon: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/
Thanks for dropping by and I hope it has given you something to think about..