Health Benefits of Potassium

Potassium is an essential mineral and is the third most abundant mineral found in the human body.  The health benefits of potassium are many and the body requires potassium for proper functioning of tissues, cells and organs.

It is an electrolyte since it conducts electricity along with calcium, magnesium, sodium and chloride. It helps move nutrients to body cells and waste products out of these cells.  It is recommended that we eat 3,500 mg of potassium each day.  Most of this comes from foods and drinks rich in potassium.

Health benefits of Potassium

The health benefits of potassium rich foods include the ability to maintain proper muscle and

nerve functioning.  It can maintain acid-base and electrolyte balance in the body. Lack of potassium can lead to symptoms such as muscle weakness, irritability, fatigue, heart problems, chronic diarrhea, and confusion etc.  Here are some of the key health benefits of potassium:

Bone health : There is a positive link between bone health and a potassium rich diet. Osteoporosis in elderly women can be prevented by consuming foods rich in this mineral.

Hypokalemia : This is a condition that results due to low levels of potassium in the body. This will result in symptoms such as lack of energy, weakness, diarrhea, muscle cramps, abnormal EKG and irregular heartbeat.  Since most people consume potassium rich foods, this condition could occur due to an excessive loss of potassium through the intestines or urine. This is a life threatening condition and must be treated by a medical professional. 

Recommended Potassium Dosage

Health benefits of potassium

High Blood Pressure : Low levels of potassium can result in high blood pressure according to some studies. A person suffering from high blood pressure will then need to take potassium supplements. Greater intake of potassium can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and this has been linked to the effect of potassium on lowering blood pressure.

Reducing risk of Stroke : Those who consume the daily requirement of potassium will have a reduced risk of strokes.  Potassium supplements do not produce the same effect. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) : Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis – IBD – sufferers find it difficult to absorb nutrients from the intestine and this could be due to low potassium levels and other essential nutrients. Doctors usually check potassium levels in those who suffer from IBD.

Health Benefits to the Heart : Sufficient quantities of potassium are essential to help maintain heart health and prevent conditions like heart rhythm problems or heart failure. A diet rich in potassium can even reduce cholesterol levels.  While there are no direct studies linking this, there are studies to prove diets that help lower cholesterol often contain high levels of potassium.

Atherosclerosis that results due to smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and high blood pressure especially in older people can be controlled with a potassium-rich diet.  While potassium is not known to prevent heart attacks, all foods rich in potassium are fruits and vegetables.  Such a healthy diet is what is needed to maintain good heart health. 

Potassium Deficiency: Hypokalemia

While a small deficiency may go unnoticed, a large potassium deficiency leads to weakness in muscles, cramps, twitches and in some cases paralysis.

But the deficiency is rarely caused because of lack of proper food but in most cases because of vomiting, diarrhea, syndromes (Liddle, Bartter, etc.), and overactive thyroid gland.

Heart Rhythms need to function in a coordinated function.  Potassium is said to hide in each heartbeat.  The heart muscle requires the right balance of potassium to beat properly.  Those who suffer from arrhythmias have uncoordinated heart rhythms. This could result in atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation and supraventricular tachycardia. Those who suffer from abnormal heart rhythms will be advised to undergo regular potassium check ups by the doctor. 

Congestive Heart Failure patients must have the recommended daily dose of potassium.  This is because some of the diuretics given for heart failure will result in loss of potassium in urine. Such people must increase their intake of potassium through diet or supplements.

Blood sugar levels can drop with decrease in levels of potassium.  This results in sweating, weakness, headaches, nervousness and trembling.  Immediate relief is provided by consuming sodium and potassium chloride. 

Muscle disorders can also be regulated with potassium that helps normal muscle contraction and relaxation.  Potassium ions are found inside human muscle cells and these maintain optimal nerve and muscle functioning.

Muscle cramps are a side effect of hypokalemia – low potassium levels in the blood.  Intake of foods rich in potassium can prevent this.

Brain functioning is aided by potassium.  It helps in proper electrical conductivity of brain.  Potassium helps improve memory and learning functions of the brain.  Adequate potassium levels prevent serious illnesses like epilepsy.

Anxiety and stress symptoms can be alleviated with potassium-rich foods.  It is helps in competent mental performance.

Muscle tissues growth and energy released at the time of metabolism all derive benefits from potassium.  This contributes to muscle strength and prevents paralysis.

Kidney disorders can be prevented with potassium since it helps in the removal of waste products from the body through excretion.

Water balance of different body cells is needed for their proper functioning and potassium aids in regulating this.

Electrolyte levels in the body are regulated by potassium.  Regulating these fluid levels help in optimal performance of critical body functions.

Nerve reflexes, muscle contraction are all boosted by the presence of potassium.

Foods rich in Potassium

Potassium Increase: Hyperkalemia

An increase in potassium levels in the blood id cause primarily due to kidney disorders / failure (it decreases excretion in urine), drugs interfering with kidney functioning, a high potassium diet, and drugs / treatment which contain potassium.

chemotherapy can also lead to hyperkalemia. Most common symptom of hyperkalemia is abnormal heart rhythm.

An adult can enjoy the health benefits of potassium from different foods such as a medium banana, a cup of orange juice, dried apricots, salmon, potato baked with the skin and a cup of milk4. Other foods that are rich in potassium include – spinach, collards, grapes, blackberries, and other citrus fruits, carrots and grapefruit.  Tomatoes, cantaloupes, avocados, flounder, cod, chicken and other meats are also rich in potassium.

Precautions when taking potassium

Potassium supplements are available as capsules, tablets, powders, effervescent tablets and powders but must be taken under medical supervision. Side effects of excessive potassium include diarrhea, nausea, muscle weakness, slowed heart rate etc.

Those suffering from kidney problems and are on dialysis, hyperkalemia, those on ACE inhibitors, antibiotics like Bactrim and Septra and potassium-sparing diuretics must not take any potassium supplements. 

Recommendation

Health benefits of potassium are numerous especially for improved functioning of the heart, nervous system, muscles, kidney, brain, bones etc.  It also does important electrolytic functions and maintains water balance in the body. It is called the ‘health insurer’ and is required for human well-being and the ability to enjoy a happy and healthy life.