What is Potassium
Potassium is the first metal in the intracellular space. Unlike sodium, 98% of potassium is found inside the cells.
Potassium levels in the body are kept normal when there is a balance between the consumption of potassium-containing foods and the elimination of the excess potassium mainly through urine and to a small extent through faeces and sweat.
The regulation of serum potassium concentration is achieved mainly through the kidneys.
Potassium is the 3rd most abundant metal in the human body and is a very essential nutrient.
Regulates blood pressure
Potassium is essential for regulating the volume of intracellular fluids. The difference in the concentration of sodium and potassium across the cell membrane regulates blood pressure.
When there is a low concentration of sodium in the extracellular space and a high concentration of potassium in the intracellular space, there is little water retention outside the cells, so the heart does not need to increase blood pressure in order for oxygen and nutrients to enter the cells.
This action of potassium in regulating blood pressure seems to be the reason why potassium reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Effect on brain function
Potassium channels in the brain play a dominant role in memory and learning. Some studies have shown reduced chances of stroke in people who followed a potassium-rich diet.
Contraction of smooth muscle fibres
Potassium is one of the most important components for the proper functioning of our body’s muscles as well as for nerve function and the smooth transfer of messages from one part of the body to another.
Improves bone health
There are certain properties of potassium that neutralize various acids throughout the body, which helps in retaining and maintaining calcium.
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Stimulates Nervous Activity
Potassium plays an important role in maintaining normal brain function by allowing oxygen to reach the brain, thereby enhancing neural activity and increasing cognitive function.
It helps to prevent the occurrence of stroke and since it acts as a vasodilator, it relaxes blood vessels, preventing blood from clotting.
New research shows that Potassium-rich diet reduces risk of stroke in postmenopausal women.
Stabilizes blood sugar
A decrease in the amount of potassium causes a drop in blood sugar, which can cause sweating, headache, weakness, tremors and nervousness. This is why diabetic patients are encouraged to keep their potassium levels normal.
Muscle cramps are a common result of low levels of potassium in the blood, a condition called hypokalemia.
Increases the metabolism
Potassium helps in the metabolic processing of various nutrients such as fats and carbohydrates. Studies have shown that potassium is also an integral part of protein synthesis, which helps in tissue regeneration, cell growth and a balanced overall metabolism.
Reduces anxiety and stress
Potassium can help regulate various hormones in your body, including stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, excessive amounts of which can be very damaging.
Boosts heart health
Ensures good function for both the heart and the kidneys. Helps the kidneys to remove waste through the excretion process.
However, it is recommended to consult your doctor about the dosage because potassium often makes the body absorb more calcium than necessary, which can eventually cause kidney problems.
Maintains the balance of water and fluid levels
Another important role that potassium plays is maintaining an optimal balance of fluids in the human body.
Different types of cells require proper water balance for efficient functioning and potassium helps them to regulate it. Because it is also an important electrolyte, it helps regulate fluid levels and transmit electrical charges throughout the body.
The occurrence of potassium deficiency is rare, because potassium is found in several foods that we consume daily, such as orange juice, bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, beans, lentils, salmon, yoghurt, skimmed milk.
Potassium deficiencies are due to:
Some of the symptoms of potassium deficiency are:
Recommended Daily Intake
The recommended safe intake of potassium is 4.7g per day. The Recommended daily intake is between 2600 to 3400mg for adults (1 gram = 1000 milligram).
The table below will help you choose foods rich in potassium. Eat potassium-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Potassium balances high sodium concentration and can reduce the effects of salt on blood pressure. Also consume potassium-enriched foods on the market, such as margarines and yoghurt drinks (e.g kefir).
Foods Rich in Potassium
|1 cup of orange juice||975|
|150g roasted sweet potato||694|
|150g baked potato with skin||610|
|½ cup baked beans||595|
|250g non-fat yoghurt||579|
|½ cup tomato paste||549|
|1 medium banana||422|
|½ cup roasted spinach||419|
|½ cup roasted lentils||365|
Excessive doses should be avoided in patients with the following conditions: chronic renal failure (especially in the elderly), gastrointestinal dysfunction or ulceration, peptic ulcer, peptic ulcer, Adisson’s disease, cardiac blockade, severe burns and acute dehydration.
Adverse reactions that may occur are: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea cramps, and gastrointestinal ulceration – especialy when potassium is taken on an empty stomach.
Hyperkalemia is extremely rare after oral supplementation if normal renal function is present. A daily intake of more than 17 g is required to cause toxicity.
Hyperkalemia is when blood potassium levels are above 5.5 mmol/L. Most patients with mild hyperkalemia have no symptoms or mild symptoms that can be overlooked.
If potassium rises to a concentration >6.5 mmol/L then cardiac problems are caused that require immediate medical attention.
Hyperkalemia (elevated potassium in the blood) causes the following symptoms:
Mild hypokalemia causes no symptoms or causes mild symptoms that may not be noticed. Severe hypokalemia is when the blood potassium level is below 2.5 mmol/L.
Hypokalemia is accompanied by the following symptoms:
Changes in potassium levels (hyperkalaemia and hypokalaemia) may be due to the following conditions or causes:
Increased potassium (hyperkalemia)
Potassium reduction (hypokalemia)