Potassium is essential for human health. It helps maintain fluid balance within cells, regulates nerve impulses, and plays a role in muscle contraction.
Potassium deficiency has become increasingly common among people due to poor diet choices. This is especially true for women who tend to consume less potassium than men.
If you’re not consuming enough potassium, you may experience fatigue, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, and even heart failure. In addition, low levels of potassium can cause kidney stones, bone loss, and high blood pressure.
Fortunately, there are many foods rich in potassium, including bananas, oranges, tomatoes, avocados, potatoes, beans, peas, spinach, broccoli, and dairy products.
If you’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables, then you should consider adding potassium supplements to your diet (after consulting with your doctor). In this article, I’ll explain the incredible benefits of potassium for health.
What Is Potassium?
Potassium is an important mineral that’s required by our bodies to function properly. Our kidneys filter waste from our bloodstream through urine, which contains about 90% water and 10% solids. The solids include minerals like sodium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, chloride, and sulfate. These solids pass out of the body as waste via the urine.
The remaining 10% of the solids are filtered out by the liver. If we don’t get enough potassium, these solids will build up in the blood and form crystals called uric acid. Uric acid is a waste product that’s produced when our bodies break down purines, another type of organic compound found in animal-based proteins.
Uric acid is normally excreted by the kidneys, but if it builds up in the blood, it can be deposited on the joints or in other soft tissues throughout the body. This buildup can lead to gout, arthritis, kidney stones, and other conditions.
Our bodies also require potassium for healthy nerves and muscles. Nerves carry electrical signals between brain cells and other parts of the body. When they receive a signal, they send a message along the axon, which carries the signal to the next cell.
Muscle contractions occur when neurons fire off their electrical signals. Potassium channels open and close at different times during this process, allowing potassium ions to flow into or out of the neuron. Without sufficient potassium, the neuron cannot effectively transmit its electrical signal.
Inadequate amounts of potassium can also interfere with nerve impulse conduction. Low potassium levels can cause muscle spasms, cramps, and twitching.
How Does Potassium Work?
When potassium enters the body, it binds with various molecules. Some of these molecules help regulate fluids inside and outside of cells. Others work as part of enzymes involved in chemical reactions. Still, others act as cofactors in enzyme systems.
Potassium helps maintain fluid balance within the cells, which is especially important for nerve impulses and muscle contraction. It also aids in maintaining normal blood pH levels and regulating certain hormones such as insulin.
It’s estimated that more than half of all Americans have too little potassium in their diets. That’s why it’s so important to eat plenty of potassium-rich foods.
Health Benefits of potassium
Following are the major health benefits of potassium.
1. Regulate Fluid Balance
The body needs potassium to maintain fluid balance. When you sweat, your body loses water through your skin. To replace this lost water, your kidneys release sodium into your bloodstream. This causes your blood volume to increase. As your blood volume increases, so does the amount of salt (sodium) in your blood. If you continue sweating, your kidneys will eventually remove enough sodium from your blood to return your blood volume to normal.
When you eat potassium-rich foods such as bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, fish, and legumes, your kidneys will excrete less sodium. This allows your blood volume to stay stable.
2. Protect Against Heart Disease
High blood cholesterol is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. High levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the blood raises the risk of atherosclerosis, which leads to coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association recommends consuming more than 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day to lower LDL cholesterol.
High blood pressure is another common risk factor for heart disease. A diet rich in potassium helps control blood pressure by reducing the amount of sodium in the body. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables containing potassium also lowers blood pressure.
3. Prevent Kidney Stones
Kidneys play an important role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth. They also help regulate the amount of calcium in the blood. Calcium is needed to build strong bones and teeth. However, if there is too little calcium in the blood, the kidneys will begin removing calcium from the blood using a process called “calciuria.” Too much calciuria can lead to kidney stones.
Kidney stones form when minerals like calcium and oxalate crystallize together inside the kidney. These crystals block the flow of urine, causing pain and sometimes infection.
People who drink large amounts of soda or alcohol often have increased urinary calcium. This condition, known as hypercalciuria, can contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
4. Help Prevent Stroke
Strokes occur when a clot blocks blood flow to part of the brain. High blood pressure is one of the most common risk factors for stroke. People with high blood pressure tend to develop clots more easily. Clots can break off and travel to other parts of the body. If these clots lodge in the arteries supplying blood to the brain, they can cause a stroke.
Eating a diet rich in potassium reduces the chance of developing strokes caused by clots. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that men who ate at least 1,200 mg of potassium daily had a 43 percent lower risk of having a stroke compared to those who consumed fewer than 400 mg of potassium daily. Women who consumed about 600 mg of potassium daily were 44 percent less likely to develop a stroke than women who consumed less than 300 mg of potassium daily.
5. Maintain Healthy Bones and Teeth
Potassium plays an essential role in bone health. It’s necessary for the absorption of calcium into the bloodstream. Without enough potassium, the body cannot absorb enough calcium. As a result, the bones become weak and brittle.
In addition, high blood levels of phosphorus can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Phosphorus is a mineral required for normal growth and development. When it builds up in the body, it can be toxic. Excess phosphorus causes the body to remove calcium from bones. The resulting loss of calcium makes bones weaker and increases the risk of fractures.
High blood levels of phosphorus are associated with diseases such as gout, kidney stones, and kidney failure. To maintain optimal bone strength, adults should consume between 2,300-3,500 mg of potassium each day.
6. Important for the Nervous System
The nervous system relies on potassium to function properly. Potassium helps transmit messages throughout the body. It also regulates nerve impulses and muscle contractions.
If you’re experiencing symptoms such as headache, dizziness, weakness, or numbness, talk to your doctor about taking extra potassium. Your physician may recommend eating foods high in potassium and if you don’t get enough through food sources alone, he may prescribe you a potassium supplement.
7. Helps Regulate Muscle and Heart Contractions
When muscles contract, potassium moves out of cells where it was stored. When this happens, the amount of potassium inside the cell decreases. As a result, potassium must move back into the cell to keep the muscle contracting.
This process is called excitation-contraction coupling. The heart uses this mechanism to pump blood. When the heart contracts, potassium leaves the cells in the heart and enters the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, potassium travels to the rest of the body to help regulate muscle contractions.
8. Supports Normal Blood Pressure Levels
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Systolic refers to the first number while diastolic refers to the second number. Both numbers represent how much force is being exerted against the walls of the arteries when the heart pumps blood. If systolic pressure exceeds 140 mm Hg, then the person has hypertension.
Blood pressure tends to rise as people age. High blood pressure is more common among African Americans and Latinos than Caucasians. Approximately 40 million American adults have hypertension. However, many people do not know they have high blood pressure until their condition becomes serious.
Excessive amounts of sodium in the diet can raise blood pressure. This problem is exacerbated by low levels of potassium in the diet. Fortunately, there are ways to lower both sodium and potassium intake. You can reduce sodium by choosing less processed foods and avoiding fast foods. You can also limit your consumption of salt.
You can boost your potassium intake by consuming fruits and vegetables that contain potassium. These include bananas, apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew melons, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, oranges, peaches, plums, prunes, raisins, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and yams.
9. Protect from the damage of chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is a major cause of many diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Potassium helps protect against chronic inflammation by helping maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is an important component of cell membranes. Healthy cholesterol levels are essential for maintaining cell membrane integrity.
High cholesterol levels can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries which narrows them and increases the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Potassium Deficiency Symptoms
Symptoms of low potassium levels include:
- Muscle cramping or weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Kidney stones
If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. He may recommend taking a potassium supplement or increasing your intake of potassium-rich foods such as bananas, avocados, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dairy products, fish, and seafood.
Sources of potassium
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of potassium for men is 4,700 mg/day. Women should consume 3,500 mg/day.
If you eat 2 cups of raw leafy greens per day, you will meet your RDA for potassium. Leafy greens such as collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, and Swiss chard are rich sources of potassium.
If you eat 1 cup of cooked potato per day, you will get about half of your RDA for potassium or 2,300 mg/day. Potatoes are one of the best sources of potassium. They are also very filling so it’s easy to eat just one serving.
Other good sources of potassium include:
Bananas – 1 medium banana contains about 400 mg of potassium.
Beans – One cup of beans provides about 500 mg of potassium.
Apples – 1 medium apple provides about 100 mg of potassium.
Spinach – A cup of cooked spinach contains about 200 mg of potassium.
Tomatoes – One tomato contains about 50 mg of potassium.
Beans – Half a cup of baked beans contains about 150 mg of potassium.
Peas – 1/2 cup of cooked peas contains about 300 mg of potassium.
Fish – 3 ounces of tuna contains about 110 mg of potassium.
Milk – 2% milk contains about 60 mg of potassium.
Eggs – 1 egg contains about 70 mg of potassium.
Oatmeal – 1 cup of oatmeal contains about 170 mg of potassium.
Whole Grains – 1 slice of bread contains about 130 mg of potassium.
Soybeans – 1 cup of soybeans contains about 250 mg of potassium.
Seeds – 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds contains about 160 mg of potassium.
Walnuts – 1 ounce of walnuts contains about 120 mg of potassium.
Cereals – 1 cup of cereal flakes contains about 240 mg of potassium.
Yogurt – 1 cup of yogurt contains about 190 mg of potassium.
If you’re not getting enough potassium in your diet, take a daily supplement. Taking supplements isn’t necessary if you consume adequate amounts of potassium-rich foods, but it can provide additional protection against health problems.
There are two types of potassium supplements available: potassium citrate and potassium chloride (KCl). Both forms contain the same amount of potassium per serving, but potassium citrate has fewer side effects.
The most common side effect of taking potassium supplements is diarrhea. Other possible side effects include stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, constipation, increased urination, and changes in appetite. If you notice any of these symptoms, stop taking the supplement and contact your doctor immediately.
You should only use potassium supplements under medical supervision. Talk to your doctor before using them if you have any questions about whether you need them, how much you need them, or what form to take.
Potassium Supplement Side Effects
People who take too much potassium can develop kidney stones. In addition, high levels of potassium in the blood can cause muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, and breathing difficulties. People with heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, or other conditions that affect their kidneys may be at higher risk for developing kidney stones.
Talk to your doctor before starting a new dietary supplement program. You might want to discuss any medications you’re currently taking, as well as any allergies you have. Your doctor will also check your blood pressure and kidney function to make sure they’re normal.
If you decide to start taking potassium supplements, it’s important to follow the directions on the label carefully. Do not exceed the recommended daily dose unless otherwise directed. Also, do not take this product during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
People who take large amounts of potassium supplements over time can develop high blood pressure, kidney damage, and even death. High doses of potassium can also cause diarrhea and stomach pain. If you have any questions regarding potassium supplementation, please consult your doctor.
Symptoms of high potassium levels
High levels of potassium in the blood can cause symptoms similar to those caused by low potassium levels. These symptoms include:
- Muscle cramping
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty breathing
- Kidney failure
Treating imbalanced potassium levels
The most common treatment for people with high levels of potassium is dialysis. Dialysis removes excess potassium from the blood and replaces it with an electrolyte solution. This process is repeated several times during each dialysis session.
The frequency of dialysis sessions depends on how much potassium is removed during each session. It usually takes two hours to complete a dialysis session.
Hypokalemia (low Potassium Level)
hypokalemia is when there is less than a normal amount of potassium in the blood. The most common causes are:
- Liver disease
- Renal disease
- Pancreatic disease
- Low dietary intake of potassium
- Some medications
- Certain conditions such as heart attacks and strokes
- Excessive sweating
- Excessively exercising
If you are experiencing hypokalemia, you need to replenish your potassium stores. You should try to eat more foods rich in potassium such as bananas, dairy products, fish, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and potatoes. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water per day. If you don’t feel better after following these recommendations, talk to your doctor.
Hyperkalemia (high Potassium Level)
hyperkalemia is when there’s more potassium in the blood than what is considered normal. Causes of hyperkalemia include:
- Taking too many potassium-containing drugs
- Having kidney disease
- Eating too much salt
- Too much magnesium in the diet
- Overusing laxatives
- Overuse of diuretics
- Inadequate fluid intake
- Certain medical conditions such as cancer, liver disease, or congestive heart failure
If you experience hyperkalemia, you will likely notice some of the following symptoms:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest discomfort
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, fingers, toes, or feet
- Rapid pulse
- Shortness of breath
- Slow pulse
- Muscle cramps
- Kidney failure
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty breathing
You should avoid consuming foods that contain potassium if you are experiencing hyperkalemia. Foods that contain a lot of potassium include fruits like oranges, grapefruit, apples, peaches, pears, plums, apricots, melons, cherries, and prunes; vegetables like spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, celery, sweet peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and broccoli; beans and peas; meat; poultry; and seafood.
In conclusion, potassium is essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. But did you know that it also helps prevent muscle cramps, heart attacks, and even kidney stones? Potassium is also crucial for nerve function, which means that if you have trouble sleeping, you may be low in potassium. And if you’re pregnant, you should take extra care to ensure that you’re consuming enough potassium.