Potassium is a chemical element with the symbol “K” from the neo Latin word Kalium, and has atomic number 19. Potassium occurs naturally in ionic salts and is found in lakes and seabeds. These natural ingredients are dissolved in seawater or are found as elements in many minerals. The most common format for potassium is as an ionic salt. This naturally occurring compound is important as a blood electrolyte, along with sodium and chloride.

Health Benefits of Potassium

Potassium is vital for normal bodily functions to be maintained. A balanced dietary intake can replenish a human body with a required amount of potassium.

A normal supply of potassium is important for preventing certain muscle contractions. A person who has a depletion of potassium may find that they have symptoms of muscle contractions and muscle weakness and also experience Pins & Needles.

A shortage of potassium in the body’s fluids can result in a fatal condition called hypokalemia. This disorder can result after the person has had a significant period of vomiting or diarrhea, for example.

Being low in potassium can affect human nerve transmission as the Na+/K+ transfers across cell walls and creates electric potential that powers the conduction of nerve impulses. When potassium leaves the cell, it changes the membrane potential and allows the nerve impulse to progress. This electrical potential gradient, created by the “sodium/potassium pump” (Na+/K+ pump) helps generate muscle contractions and regulates the heartbeat. When the body is low in potassium this current is harder to maintain, as potassium is the primary cation (positively charged ion) within the cells.

Other human medical disorders can result from a depletion of potassium including ECG abnormalities, a decreased reflex response and paralytic ileus. More severe deficiencies of potassium can result in respiratory paralysis, alkalosis,and cardiac arrhythmia.

Potassium Helps to Control Sodium Levels in the Body

As mentioned above, Potassium is a key component in the mechanism for removing Sodium (which has the chemical symbol “Na”) from cells in the body via a process known as the Na+/K+ ATPase pump. The body needs potassium in order to work for this pump to work. Sodium is dangerous if it builds up in cells and this is why it is often advised to reduce sodium consumption and increase potassium, especially if one has high blood pressure and/or cardiac dysfunctions. Magnesium is also important in helping to maintain potassium in the cells.

Electrolyte Imbalance from a Potassium Deficiency

A deficiency of Potassium can result in a condition called an electrolyte imbalance in the body. This condition is one of the more prevalent problems that can result from a potassium deficiency. As discussed above, potassium is one of the main positively charged ions in the body. 98% of the potassium concentration found within an average person is contained within cells. It is vital for proper cell function throughout the body.

Dietary Intake of Potassium

A balanced diet can usually provide a sufficient amount of daily potassium. Many fruits and vegetables are high in potassium, low in sodium, which is the balance needed by the body to help keep sodium levels down within cells and therefore help prevent hypertension. Fresh, frozen or dried food is best, as most of the potassium is lost when processing or canning foods.

The following foods have rich sources of potassium:

Sweet potatoes and white potatoes
Dried apricots, raisins and bananas are known for their potassium rich fibers
Apples, oranges and other citrus fruits
Chocolate and dried milk
Fish particularly cod, salmon, sardines and flounder
Meats often have more potassium than sodium, however be aware of added salt that will increase Sodium concentration
Most wholegrain, wheatgerm, seeds and nuts especially almonds and pistachios
Herbs that contain significant Potassium are: red cloversagecatmint, hops, horsetailnettle, plantain and skullcaps

Potassium Absorption Inhibitors

Caffeine and tobacco are both known to reduce potassium absorption. Smokers, coffee drinkers and those on crash diets seem to be the most susceptible to low potassium levels.

Potassium Dietary Supplements

Where there is low potassium, a secondary medical problem may be creating this depletion. A potassium health supplement is frequently used as a natural treatment to ensure a daily intake of potassium.

Potassium supplements are used by heart patients and stroke patients. Heart patients often use a secondary intake of potassium in order to prevent the risk of hypertension and the possibility of stroke.

Potassium is sold as a dietary supplement rather than as a prescription drug or medicine. Supplements of potassium are used along with loop diuretics and thiazides to prevent heart related diseases and symptoms.

Patients with a heart disorder, a history of central nervous system damage or stroke patients are monitored for their dietary intake and for their use of regular table salt. Sodium substitutes are frequently recommended for these patients. A popular sodium substitute is to use potassium chloride as a condiment instead of normal table salt which is sodium chloride. This is a dietary way to control hypertension (high blood pressure).

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Potassium Notes / Side Effects

Potassium is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in various bodily functions, including muscle contraction, nerve signaling, fluid balance, and blood pressure regulation. While potassium is generally safe for most people when consumed in appropriate amounts through food sources, supplements, or medications, excessive intake or certain medical conditions can lead to side effects or complications.

Some potential side effects of potassium include:

Hyperkalemia: One of the most significant risks associated with potassium supplementation or high potassium intake is hyperkalemia, which refers to elevated levels of potassium in the blood. Hyperkalemia can occur due to excessive potassium supplementation, impaired kidney function, certain medications, or medical conditions like kidney disease or Addison’s disease. Symptoms of hyperkalemia can include muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, nausea, fatigue, and tingling sensations. Severe hyperkalemia can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

Gastrointestinal symptoms: High doses of potassium supplements or concentrated forms of potassium, such as potassium chloride tablets, may cause gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal discomfort. These symptoms are more likely to occur when potassium supplements are taken on an empty stomach or in large doses.

Kidney problems: Individuals with impaired kidney function or chronic kidney disease may be at increased risk of developing hyperkalemia when consuming potassium supplements or high-potassium foods. The kidneys play a crucial role in regulating potassium levels in the body, and kidney dysfunction can lead to difficulties in potassium excretion, resulting in elevated blood potassium levels.

Drug interactions: Certain medications can interact with potassium supplements or affect potassium levels in the body. For example, potassium-sparing diuretics, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and potassium supplements can all increase the risk of hyperkalemia when used together. It’s essential to discuss potential drug interactions with a healthcare professional before starting or changing any medications.

Allergic reactions: In rare cases, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to potassium supplements or potassium-containing medications. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, or anaphylaxis. Anyone experiencing severe allergic symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

Overall, while potassium is vital for health, it’s essential to consume it in appropriate amounts and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, especially for individuals with certain medical conditions or those taking medications that can affect potassium levels. If you have concerns about potassium intake or experience any side effects, consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice and recommendations.



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