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Potassium

Potassium

Authored By Murigi

Potassium affects your health in two important ways.

  1. It is an essential mineral that has to be sourced from the food we eat.
  2. It is an important electrolyte.

As an electrolyte, potassium undergoes chemical changes (dissociation) so that it forms charged particles that can conduct electricity. The control of this process is critical as low or too high potassium in the body creates almost immediate health problems. Normal functions of potassium also depend on its concentration inside and outside body cells.

The movement of sodium ions in and out of the cell fulfills two other important body functions. It helps to move nutrients into the cell and supports cell cleaning and detoxification by moving metabolic wastes outside the cell for onward removal from the body through various excretory processes. The kidneys also play an important role in the maintenance of the right levels of potassium in the body. When there is too much potassium in the blood, the kidneys remove the extra amount and when the levels are low, it prevents losses.

Under normal health circumstances, potassium concentration is much higher inside the cells than it is outside the cells. The main electrolytes outside the cell are sodium ions. The delicate balance between the two is what maintains cell membrane’s integrity and body’s electrical functions. This affects three important body functions. These are:

  1. Nerve conduction functions
  2. Muscle contraction
  3. Heart electrical functions and muscle contractility

Potassium acts as an important cofactor in the functions of an enzyme called pyruvate kinase. This enzyme is important in the breakdown of carbohydrates into components that the body can use for energy production.

Signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency

Low potassium level is technically referred to as hypokalemia. The commonest causes are persistent losses due to vomiting, use of water pills that increase excretion of the mineral, kidney disease and disorders of metabolism. In low potassium states, cell metabolism and energy synthesis are impaired. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Increased tiredness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramp
  • Gut paralysis
  • Abdominal pains
  • Abdominal distension
  • Constipation

Abnormal heartbeats occur in severe low potassium levels. If not urgently managed, it can prove fatal.

Who is at risk of low potassium levels?

These include:

  • People with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa
  • Alcoholics
  • People with low magnesium in the body
  • Persistent diarrhea and vomiting
  • Prolonged use or high doses of the water pill in the class called thiazides (an example is furosemide)
  • People in heart failure
  • People who frequently use the herb black licorice.

While sudden or prolonged reduction of potassium in the body due to disease will lead to immediate or worsening signs and symptoms, poor dietary intake of the mineral will lead to chronic diseases that include:

  • Stroke
  • Osteoporosis
  • Kidney stones

The typical diet in the U.S and other industrialized countries contains more sodium chloride than potassium. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey those who meet their recommended daily amounts of dietary potassium are below 2% of the population. Studies have also suggested that supplementation potassium (or increasing it in the diet) reduces the risk of potassium related health issues. One way of doing this is the use of a reliable supplement such as Green Superfoods Basic. This is a product that will provide potassium in measure that poses no risk of toxicity. Together with the other ingredients in the supplement, you are assured of a well-balanced nutritional supplement for your personal health care promotion.

Sources of dietary potassium

Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of potassium. These include:

  • Green and leafy vegetables like collards, kales, and spinach
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Apricots
  • Avocado
  • Prunes
  • Dates
  • Blackberries
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Oranges
  • Beans
  • Almonds
  • Whole grains
  • Tomatoes
  • Artichoke

Supplements containing potassium are available as over the counter health products. Since the potential for potassium toxicity is present with supplements, many such products contain very little amounts of the mineral. For example, basic (mentioned above) contains only 12.5mg of potassium. This is less than 1% of the mineral’s suggested daily value. Higher doses can only be given for therapeutic reasons and under the guidance of a health professional.

The health benefits of potassium

The main benefit of adequate potassium intake is support of heart health. It promotes excretion of sodium from the body. Excess sodium intake (salt) in the diet has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure. Many health specialists recommend a high potassium diet for their patients who are suffering from hypertension.

Potassium also reduces blood vessel hardness and tension. This reduces blood flow resistance which further reduce blood pressure. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends enhanced dietary intake of potassium for healthy adults with blood pressures of 120/80 and above.

Adequate potassium also supports kidney health and healthy bones.

How much to take per day

The amount of potassium taken per day depends on the age and other physiological circumstances of the individual. The values in the table below are as recommended by the U.S Food and Nutritional Board and the Institute of Medicine. Meeting these amounts per day reduce the risks of health conditions associated with low potassium intake. 

Life Stage

Age

Males

Females

 

0-6 months

400

 

 

7-12 months

700

700

 

1-3 years

3000

3000

 

4-8 years

3800

3800

 

9-13 years

4500

4500

 

14 -18 years

4700

4700

 

Adults over 19 years

4700

4700

Pregnancy

14-50 years

-        

4700

Lactating

14-50 years

-        

5100

  

Safety and interactions

Dietary potassium intake is usually safe. Sticking to the recommended serving of potassium containing nutritional supplement is also unlikely to lead to any toxicity effects. Individuals may sometimes react differently to the same supplement. So in the event of taking a supplement such as Belisan’s basic or any other supplement, and you develop symptoms that cause you discomfort, it is recommended that you consult a health specialist.

Some medicines can increase potassium loss or retention in the body. If you are on any medications, talk to your doctor before taking any potassium containing supplement.

For more details about Green Superfood Basic supplements go here

References

Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Potassium. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Washington, D. C.: National Academies Press; 2005:186-268.  (The National Academies Press)

Cogswell, M. E., Zhang, Z., Carriquiry, A. L., Gunn, J. P., Kuklina, E. V., Saydah, S. H., … Moshfegh, A. J. (2012). Sodium and potassium intakes among US adults: NHANES 2003–2008. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(3), 647–657. http://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.034413

Young DB, Lin H, McCabe RD. Potassium's cardiovascular protective mechanisms. Am J Physiol. 1995;268(4 Pt 2):R825-837.

Hypokalemia. The Merck Manual – Consumer version. http://www.msdmanuals.com/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/electrolyte-balance/hypokalemia-low-level-of-potassium-in-the-blood

Megan Ware RDN LD. (2017, September 26). "Potassium: Health benefits and recommended intake." Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/287212.php.



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