Potassium

What can high-potassium foods do for you?

    • Help your muscles and nerves function properly
    • Maintain the proper electrolyte and acid-base balance in your body
    • Help lower your risk of high blood pressure

 

What events can indicate a need for more high-potassium foods?
    • Muscle weakness
    • Confusion
    • Irritability
    • Fatigue
    • Heart problems
    • Chronic diarrhea
    • Regular, intense exercise
    • Use of certain diuretics

 

What is potassium?

Potassium, sodium and chloride comprise the electrolyte family of minerals. Called electrolytes because they conduct electricity when dissolved in water, these minerals work together closely. About 95% of the potassium in the body is stored within cells, while sodium and chloride are predominantly located outside the cell. Potassium is especially important in regulating the activity of muscles and nerves. The frequency and degree to which our muscles contract, and the degree to which our nerves become excitable, both depend heavily on the presence of potassium in the right amount.

What is the function of potassium?

Muscle contraction and nerve transmission Potassium plays an important role in muscle contraction and nerve transmission. Many of our muscle and nerve cells have specialized channels for moving potassium in and out of the cell. Sometimes potassium moves freely in and out, and sometimes a special energy-driven pump is required. When the movement of potassium is blocked, or when potassium is deficient in the diet, activity of both muscles and nerves can become compromised.

Other roles for potassium

Potassium is involved in the storage of carbohydrates for use by muscles as fuel. It is also important in maintaining the body’s proper electrolyte and acid-base (pH) balance. Potassium may also counteract the increased urinary calcium loss caused by the high-salt diets typical of most Americans, thus helping to prevent bones from thinning out at a fast rate.

What are deficiency symptoms for potassium?

Potassium occurs naturally in a wide variety of foods. As a result, dietary deficiency of potassium is uncommon. However, if you experience excessive fluid loss, through vomiting, diarrhea or sweating, or if you take certain medications (see section on Drug-Nutrient Interactions below), you may be at risk for potassium deficiency. In addition, a diet that is high in sodium and low in potassium can negatively impact potassium status. While the typical American diet, which is high in sodium-containing processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables, contains about two times more sodium than potassium, many health experts recommend taking in at least five times more potassium than sodium. The symptoms of potassium deficiency include muscle weakness, confusion, irritability, fatigue, and heart disturbances. Athletes with low potassium stores may tire more easily during exercise, as potassium deficiency causes a decrease in glycogen (the fuel used by exercising muscles) storage.

What are toxicity symptoms for potassium?

Elevated blood levels of potassium can be toxic, and may cause an irregular heartbeat or even heart attack. Under most circumstances, the body maintains blood levels of potassium within a tight range, so it is not usually possible to produce symptoms of toxicity through intake of potassium-containing foods and/or supplements.However, high intakes of potassium salts (potassium chloride and potassium bicarbonate) may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or ulcers.   In addition, the kidneys play an important role in eliminating excess potassium from the body, so if you suffer from kidney disease, you must severely limit your intake of potassium. To date, the National Academy of Sciences has not established a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for potassium.

What health conditions require special emphasis on potassium?

Potassium may play a role in the prevention and/or treatment of the following health conditions:\r\n

    • Atherosclerosis
    • Cataracts
    • Dehydration
    • Diabetes
    • Hepatitis
    • High blood pressure
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Osteoporosis
    • Potassium depletion due to excessive fluid loss from diarrhea, vomiting, or sweating

 

What are current public health recommendations for potassium?

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences issued new Adequate Intake (AI) levels for potassium. The recommendations are as follows:

    • 0-6 months: 400 mg
    • 6-12 months: 700 mg
    • 1-3 years: 3.5 g
    • 4-8 years: 3.8 g
    • 9-13 years: 4.5 g
    • 14-18 years: 4.5 g
    • 19-30 years: 4.7 g
    • 31-50 years: 4.7 g
    • 51+ years: 4.7 g
    • Pregnant women: 4.7 g
    • Lactating women: 5.1 g

 

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