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Potassium – Health Benefits, Sources, Risk factors and more

POTASSIUM

Minerals are a component of the cells in our body. They are vital for the body’s functioning. One such important mineral, commonly denoted as K+, is potassium.

What is potassium?

Potassium is a vital mineral that is found in many foods and is essential for human health. Potassium, along with minerals like calcium, sodium, chloride and a few other electrolytes, maintain the normal fluid balance in the body.  

The role of this mineral in the body is to aid in muscle contraction, regulate mineral and fluid balance in and out of body cells and maintain normal blood pressure by limiting sodium’s effect. The risk of bone loss as well as kidney stones is also reduced with potassium intake.  

The 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans regard potassium as an under-consumed nutrient. Since there are health concerns due to low potassium intake, it is considered a nutrient of public health concern.

Sources of potassium

Potassium rich foods

Potassium is available in many foods, including green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, brinjal, pumpkins, potatoes, beans and carrots. Other potassium-containing foods include nuts, milk, meat, fish and poultry.

Fruits

Potassium-rich fruits are:

Vegetables

Vegetable sources of potassium include,

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Beetroot
  • Peas
  • Zucchini
  • Pumpkins
  • Brussels sprouts

Lean meats

High potassium lean meats are:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Red meat

Whole grains

Whole grains are healthier and also have this beneficial mineral in them. Few potassium-rich whole grains are mentioned below.

Beans

  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Soybeans
  • Lima beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Adzuki beans

Nuts and seeds

Benefits of potassium

Blood pressure and cardiovascular health

Less potassium consumption is often linked with high blood pressure along with a high sodium diet (salt).

According to the National Institutes of Health, increasing the amount of potassium and decreasing the amount of sodium in the diet may help lower the blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that increasing potassium intake in the diet lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Bone and muscle maintenance

A potassium-rich diet is associated with better bone health. Acid-base balance is maintained in the body through the alkali produced by the consumption of potassium-rich foods.

Increasing the intake of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables makes the body more alkaline, allowing the bones to retain their structure.

According to a study, potassium’s ability to increase bone mineral density is found to be dependent on calcium and vitamin D intake, both of which are important nutrients for bone health.

Potassium is required for muscle contraction, muscle-to-nerve communication and overall muscular function.

Since muscles are found all over the body, including the arms, legs, respiratory and digestive tracts, a low potassium diet can contribute to fatigue and digestive issues.

Kidney stone

Hypercalciuria (excessive urinary calcium) along with low-potassium and high protein diets increases the risk of developing kidney stones.

Increasing potassium intake, either through increased fruits and vegetables or supplementation, may reduce urinary calcium and the development of kidney stones.

In a recent study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, the effect of protein and potassium intake on kidney stones was investigated. It was found that higher potassium intake in the diet was associated with a significant and large reduction in the risk of kidney stones.

Potassium deficiency

Hypokalaemia is the low potassium level in the blood. It can be due to several factors, and the most common ones are diarrhoea, vomiting, use of diuretics or adrenal gland disorders.

Low potassium levels can make the muscles weak, cramp, twitch or even paralysed. The heart rhythm also becomes abnormal.

Kidney disease 

Hypokalaemic nephropathy is a progressive renal disease associated with chronic hypokalaemia that can progress to end-stage kidney disease if not promptly treated.

Chronic kidney disease makes the kidneys functioning difficult. The kidney is vital for potassium regulation. This can lead to decreased levels of potassium in the body.

Overuse of diuretics

Hypokalaemia is mostly caused by diuretic therapy, which causes renal potassium loss.

Diuretics like thiazide-type diuretics and loop-diuretics like furosemide are primarily involved in causing hypokalaemia.

Some diuretics can also cause an increase in potassium excretion in the urine. This can result in low potassium levels in the blood.

Excessive sweating 

Potassium is primarily regulated by the kidneys and excreted in the urine. Potassium is also expelled through sweating. The more a person sweats, the more potassium is lost.

Magnesium deficiency 

Magnesium acts as an intermediary in the sodium-potassium balance. Magnesium assists the potassium in crossing the cell membrane as it cannot cross on its own.

According to an article titled ‘Mechanism of hypokalaemia in magnesium deficiency’, hypokalaemia is exacerbated by magnesium deficiency.

Use of antibiotics 

Most doctors do not consider antibiotics to be a cause of hypokalaemia. Large doses of penicillin, nafcillin, ampicillin and carbenicillin cause renal potassium excretion.

Risk factors of potassium overdose

A high potassium level in the blood is known as hyperkalaemia. This can cause weakness, paralysis, arrhythmias and muscle fatigue.

Taking too many potassium supplements 

According to a book titled ‘Dietary Reference Intakes for Sodium and Potassium’, there is evidence that supplementation with very high doses of potassium can cause adverse effects and can even be fatal in extreme cases.

Kidney disease

The kidneys can often compensate for high potassium levels in the early stages of kidney disease.

As kidney function starts to deteriorate, they may be unable to remove enough potassium from the body resulting in elevated potassium. Hyperkalaemia is frequently caused by advanced kidney disease.

Prolonged exercise 

Potassium is lost from the skeletal muscles during prolonged exercise. Since skeletal muscles are the primary potassium reservoir, the levels of potassium in the blood rise drastically and can even reach up to 8 mmol/L, which can be sustained during exercise.

Cocaine use

Hyperkalaemia may develop in severe cocaine toxicity, leading to cardiac dysrhythmias. Though the exact cause is unknown, rhabdomyolysis is often considered a factor for hyperkalaemia.

Potassium-sparing diuretics 

When medications that inhibit potassium excretion like potassium-sparing diuretics and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are taken for treatment, it can result in potassium level elevation in the blood.

Chemotherapy 

During chemotherapy, the drugs will act by breaking down the tumour cells, as seen with tumour lysis syndrome.

When there is a rapid amount of cellular destruction, the cell components like potassium move outside of the cell and into the bloodstream, causing hyperkalaemia.  

Diabetes 

Hyperkalaemia is an issue for people who have poorly controlled Diabetes. High blood sugar levels harm the kidneys, which are responsible for removing excess potassium from the body. This results in high potassium levels in the blood.

Severe burns 

The body releases excess potassium in the blood in response to severe burns or injuries. The excess potassium causes hyperkalaemia.

Hyperkalemia’s aetiology includes metabolic acidosis, red blood cell destruction, rhabdomyolysis and renal failure.

Conclusion  

Potassium is one important mineral in the body. The right amount of potassium is required for the normal functioning of the kidney. Kidney diseases and medications most often cause hypokalaemia or hyperkalaemia.

It is recommended to consume an adequate amount of potassium through foods to prevent deficiency and restrict potassium-rich foods in case of hyperkalaemia.

FAQ’s

1.Why is potassium important for our body? 

Potassium is required for normal cell functioning. It regulates the heartbeat, maintains muscle and nerve function and plays a vital role in protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism

2.What food is highest in potassium? 

Dried apricots are said to contain high potassium content, followed by lentils, bananas, prunes and raisins.

3.How much potassium is advisable per day? 

According to the National Institute of Health, the daily recommendation or DV of potassium for adults and children above the age of 4 is 4700 mg.
 Foods with 20% or more of the DV are considered high sources of potassium.

4.What are the low potassium food sources? 

According to myfooddata.com, refined oil, white rice, egg, napa cabbage, blueberries and chia seeds are said to contain low potassium.

5.How is potassium beneficial for your heart?

Potassium-rich foods are significant in managing high blood pressure because potassium reduces the effects of sodium.  
 Potassium also helps relax the walls of blood vessels, which helps lower blood pressure even more. Other beneficial effects of potassium include keeping the heart rhythm stable and lowering the risk of cardiac arrest.

6.How much potassium should be present in your blood? 

An adult’s blood potassium level should be between 3.5 and 5.0 mmol/L.

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