Potassium: What to know

Potassium is one of 7 important macrominerals. To help key processes the human body needs at least 100 milligrams of potassium per day.

A high consumption of potassium decreases the overall mortality risk by 20 percent. It also decreases the risk of stroke, lowers blood pressure, protects against muscle mass loss, maintains bone mineral density and prevents kidney stone formation.

Potassium’s primary functions in the body include regulating the fluid balance and monitoring heart and other muscle electrical activity.

This Nccmed Knowledge Center article offers an in-depth look at the recommended intake of potassium, its possible health benefits, reliable potassium sources, the consequences of eating too much or too little potassium and any potential health risks associated with potassium consumption.

Fast facts on potassium

  • Adults should be consuming 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium a day. However, fewer than two percent of people in the U.S. consume enough potassium.
  • Potassium supports blood pressure, cardiovascular health, bone strength, and muscle strength.
  • Beet greens, white beans, soy beans, and lima beans are the foods highest in potassium.
  • Potassium deficiency can lead to fatigue, weakness, and constipation. It can escalate to paralysis, respiratory failure, and painful gut obstructions.
  • Hyperkalemia means that there is too much potassium in the blood, and this can also impact health.
  • Potassium is available in supplements, but dietary sources are most healthful.

Recommended intake

Potassium element
Potassium is a crucial nutrient, and a very small percent of people in the U.S. consume enough.

For adults the prescription for Adequate Intake for potassium is 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day. The advice is not met by most adults.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has revealed that less than two percent of people in the U.S. met the regular requirement of 4,700-mg potassium. Women usually eat less potassium than men.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 3,510 mg daily intake, and acknowledges that this recommendation is not met by most of the global population.

Potassium supplement is available. The best way to get some vitamin or mineral through food though. The combined efforts of a variety of nutrients are not individual vitamins or minerals that make certain foods essential for a healthy living.

Benefits

Potassium has proven benefits for the health.

There is an electrolyte that counteracts the effects of sodium, helping to maintain blood pressure stable. Potassium is also essential for maintaining acid and baseline balance in the body. Bases are alkalis that have not yet dissolved in water.

Blood pressure and cardiovascular health

Low intakes of potassium have been related consistently to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Maintaining a low sodium intake is necessary for reducing blood pressure, but maintaining sufficient potassium intake can be equally critical.

An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium is crucial to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

For one study, people who ate 4,069 mg of potassium a day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease relative to those who ate only 1,000 mg a day.

Bone and muscle maintenance

Potassium-rich foods, unlike in acidosis, maintain an alkaline state within the body. A diet full of acidifying foods such as meat, dairy products and refined cereal grains causes metabolic acidosis. Acidosis is a natural consequence of Western usually acidic diet.

Acidosis can cause excretion of nitrogen, loss of mineral density in the bone and muscle wastage. A diet rich in potassium can help maintain muscle mass in older people, as well as under circumstances that appear to contribute to muscle wastage, such as ketosis in diabetics. But a proper intake of potassium will help avoid this.

One research showed that people consuming 5,266 milligrams of potassium a day retained an average of 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass compared to those with a 50 percent lower potassium intake. Some reports also indicate bone density increases with a high intake of potassium.

Foods high in potassium

Cooked white beans
White beans are among the most potassium-rich foods, as are many other types of bean.

Potassium is found in many unprocessed and whole foods.

Fresh leafy greens, avocados, tomatoes, potatoes, and beans are among the best sources of potassium. The processing greatly decreases the amount of potassium in the diet. A diet rich in processed foods possibly has low potassium content.

There are also many processed foods which are high in sodium. Increased potassium is needed to cancel the effect of sodium on blood pressure as sodium intake increases.

Here is a table showing the nutritional benefits by one cup of the most potassium-rich foods .

Food type (1 cup)Amount of potassium provided in milligrams (mg)
Cooked, boiled, or drained beet greens, without salt1,309
Canned white beans1,189
Cooked, boiled, or drained soy beans, without salt970
Cooked, boiled, or drained lima beans, without salt969
Baked sweet potato950
Sliced avocado708
Cooked, boiled, or drained mushrooms, without salt555
Sliced banana537
Red, ripe, raw tomatoes427
Raw cantaloupe melon417

Eating one high-potassium fruit or vegetable with each meal is a safe way to reduce the harmful effects of high-sodium meals.

Beyond this list there are several other sources of potassium. Make sure to use the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database to test the potassium content of your chosen foods.

Deficiency

Tired man
Fatigue is a symptom of potassium deficiency.

Lack of potassium can cause a variety of symptoms and health problems. It’s also called hypokalemia.

A normal potassium level is described as in the range of 3.5 to 5.0 mmol / L per liter.

This is diagnosed with hypokalemia when potassium levels fall below 3.5 mmol / L. In general, moderate potassium deficiency does not pose symptoms. A potassium level below 2.5 mmol / L is known to be severely deficient, with symptoms becoming more intense as the levels decrease.

The low potassium Symptoms include:

  • malaise and fatigue
  • weakness and muscle pain all over the body
  • constipation

Extremely low potassium levels can cause:

  • severe muscle weakness and paralysis
  • respiratory failure
  • painful obstructions in the gut
  • tingling, crawling, numb, or itchy sensations main felt in the hands, feet, legs, or arms
  • intermittent muscle spasms

Low potassium can be diagnosed using simple blood tests and treated with dietary changes, including supplements. Getting daily medicines and health tests will also help a person monitor their potassium levels and avoid possible deficiencies.

Risks

Potassium also can cause health problems when a person consumes more than the recommended Adequate Intake of 4,700 mg.

Individuals with good functioning of the kidney will effectively rid the body of excess potassium in the urine. There are usually no adverse side effects to this process.

A limited number of studies have been published associating potassium toxicity with an exceptionally high intake of potassium supplements. No potassium toxicity linked to food has ever been documented.

Hyperkalemia

Too much potassium intake can be dangerous to people whose kidneys are not completely functioning. Excessive intake of potassium can lead to hyperkalemia, in which the kidneys can not extract adequate potassium from the body. This can be dangerous if the situation is rapidly escalating.

Potassium levels between 5.1 and 6.0 mmol/L are considered high, so monitoring so management require. Niveaus above 6.0 mmol / L are harmful.

Mostly hyperkalemia can either be without symptoms or show very few symptoms. However, they are similar to those that occur in hypokalemia when symptoms do appear.

Severe or unexpected hyperkalemia may cause palpitations in the heart, shortness of breath and pain in the chest. Hyperkalemia may become a life-threatening condition at this point which needs urgent medical care.

Reducing potassium intake

Hyperkalemia is treated by reducing potassium intake.

Potassium and sodium are a part of the body’s daily balancing act. Holding this balance is vital to the smooth functioning of body systems.

When suspected of hyperkalemia, it is best to avoid high-potassium products, such as the ones mentioned above. Even not to eat salt substitutes, herbal treatments, or supplements. It can all raise the levels of potassium, rather than balance them.

Two cases of cardiac arrest were related to high potassium levels. If the kidneys can not extract excess potassium from the blood, potassium may have lethal effects on the heart.

Takeaway

Potassium is essential to the functioning of the body but does not hold the answers to healthy living by itself. Overall eating habits and dietary balance are most critical for improving health and holding disease at bay.

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