Everything about Potassium: Benefits, Deficiency, Sources, and More
The human body requires continuous nutrition of several vitamins and minerals to maintain good health and proper organ function. Mineral imbalances can cause mild to severe symptoms, which worsen as we age. Potassium is one such mineral that is involved in several bodily functions. Read along to know more about this vital mineral and its function in our body.
What is Potassium?
This is a mineral required for the functioning of the human body. It is present in several foods you consume and works as an electrolyte. The body needs electrolytes for fluid transfer and the conduction of electrical impulses in the nerves. It is also involved in the development and maintenance of calcium and bones. The primary role of this mineral can be seen in body functions such as:
- Maintaining water balance
- Maintaining blood pressure
- Nerve impulses
- Muscle contractions
- Heart rhythm
- pH balance in the body
Since the body cannot produce this mineral naturally, it has to be consumed through food and beverages. Consuming too little can have serious consequences, while too much of it can also lead to short and long-term side effects. By following healthy nutrition, it is possible to maintain optimal levels of this mineral in the body.
What Are the Benefits of Potassium?
Potassium is needed for a range of body functions. Here are some of the potassium benefits you need to know about:
1. Regulates blood pressure
Potassium and sodium work together to control the fluid and plasma levels in the blood, and the blood volume affects the blood pressure. Studies have shown that people with a diet high in this mineral and low in sodium are less prone to cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The “DASH diet”, which involves eating foods high in potassium and low in sodium, has been shown in studies to reduce systolic blood pressure.
2. Maintains healthy bones and muscles
While calcium is the mineral that makes up the bone, potassium plays a role in protecting the bone by reducing calcium loss. People who consume good amounts of this mineral have good mineral bone density and are less prone to fractures and osteoporosis.
A healthy intake of potassium-rich food benefits seniors, as it can help preserve muscle mass as we age. Muscle mass reduces in older people as physical activity decreases; hence, this mineral can slow the process of muscle wasting in seniors.
3. Necessary for kidney health
In healthy people, this mineral is needed to help the kidneys reabsorb calcium. Having low potassium levels increases the risk of kidney stones because of the presence of excess calcium. However, people with kidney failure must not have too much of this mineral in their diet, and their doctor will advise them on how much of this mineral is acceptable.
4. It may reduce diabetes risk
The pancreas uses potassium to secrete insulin-the hormone needed to control blood sugar levels. Studies have shown an association between low insulin sensitivity and potassium deficiency. Additionally, there is also an inverse association between low diabetes risk and a high intake of potassium-rich food.
Sources of Potassium
Potassium is found in various plant and animal food sources and drinks. Plant sources such as legumes and whole wheat are rich in potassium, while refined foods have much less of it. Meat, fish, nuts, and dairy are also good potassium sources. Regarding drinks, non-alcoholic beverages such as coffee, tea, and fruit juices are good sources of it.
As per U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value of potassium that adults should consume is about 3,500-4,700 mg. In the table below, potassium-rich foods that should be a part of our diet are mentioned:
|Food Source||Potassium in milligrams (mg)||Percentage Daily Value|
|Dried apricots ½ cup||755 mg||16%|
|Cooked lentils 1 cup||731 mg||16%|
|Raisins ½ cup||618 mg||13%|
|Baked potato flesh, 1 medium||610 mg||13%|
|1 Banana, medium||422 mg||9%|
|Canned Kidney beans, 1 cup||607 mg||13%|
|Orange juice, 1 cup||496 mg||11%|
Deficiency of Potassium
Potassium deficiency can occur if your intake of the mineral is lower than the recommended levels over time. This deficiency can lead to complications such as high blood pressure, bone turnover, kidney stones, and salt sensitivity.
In healthy people, potassium levels below 3.6 mmol/L can cause hypokalemia. While the condition is rare among healthy people, those with a kidney condition can be severely affected by it.
Mild hypokalemia is characterised by:
- muscle weakness
- Malaise (general feeling of being unwell)
Severe deficiency of this mineral can cause:
- Excess urine production
- Glucose intolerance
- Muscular paralysis
- Breathing problems
- Heart rhythm changes
- Confusion in people with kidney disease
Low potassium can be dangerous for people with a heart condition as it directly affects the heart.
Similar to deficiency, high potassium levels can also have adverse health outcomes. The kidney does an excellent job of removing excess of this mineral in the blood. However, too much (hyperkalemia) can be dangerous, especially for people with kidney problems. This mineral’s levels are considered high if it exceeds 5.1 to 6.0 mmol/L of blood serum. Immediate medical help is required, as people with high potassium seldom feel symptoms. However, when the symptoms do appear, they can be in the form of:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
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As we have seen the role potassium plays in the body, it is now clear that it is a critical mineral that should be consumed in the recommended amounts daily. As long as you maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, you won’t have to worry about the potassium levels in the body. However, if you have other conditions predisposing you to this deficiency, you must consult your doctor about the proper lifestyle and diet. You will also need to look for low potassium symptoms if you are at risk.
How much potassium should a senior take daily?
The recommended potassium intake daily is 3500-4700 mg (4.7 g).
What does potassium do for seniors?
Potassium helps to regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of kidney stones, and this mineral is essential for many of the body’s key functions. A good intake of potassium is also related to decreased loss of muscle mass and lowered risk of diabetes.
What food is highest in potassium?
The food containing high amounts of potassium includes legumes such as kidney beans, soybeans, and other sources such as apricots, raisins, and bananas.
How can I raise my potassium quickly?
You can drink a glass of coconut water and eat 2 or 3 medium-sized bananas to get plenty of potassium quickly. Dried apricots are also rich in potassium.
Does drinking a lot of water result in lowering my potassium levels?
Excess water consumption can lead to depletion of electrolytes in the body, and it can lead to cramps, chest pain, irritability, etc.