Similar to sodium, potassium atoms are most comfortable when they concede an electron and exist as a positively charged atom (K+). Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in human body fluid; it is concentrated in the fluids inside of cells while sodium exists mainly outside of cells. The symbol for potassium is a K because of its Latin name (kalium).
Potassium is a mineral that is found in many foods, especially vegetables. It is most abundant in green leafy vegetables. But potassium is also found in meat, chicken, and fish, as well as many fruits. Potassium is believed to improve the control of blood pressure. As a result, it is not uncommon for medical providers to suggest that their patients with high blood pressure increase their intake of dietary potassium. Keeping blood pressure under control helps protect kidney health. In addition, potassium prevents the leaching of calcium from the bones, which reduces the amount of calcium in the urine. This impedes the formation of painful stones in the kidneys. Potassium helps build proteins, breaks down and uses carbohydrates, builds muscle, and maintains normal body growth. It helps to maintain the acid balance in the body and is necessary for the electrical activity of the heart.
What are the food sources of Potassium?
A few foods have excellent amounts of potassium. These include beet greens, dried figs, Swiss chard, spinach, and bok choy. Many more foods have very good amounts of potassium. These include beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cantaloupe, tomatoes, asparagus, cabbage, summer squash, crimini mushrooms, kale, turnip greens, celery, romaine lettuce, and bell peppers. And countless numbers of foods have good amounts of potassium. These include lima beans, sweet potatoes, soybeans, pinto beans, lentils, avocados, kidney beans, tuna, papaya, winter squash, salmon, bananas, green peas, scallops, strawberries, kiwifruit, cauliflower, eggplant, and watermelon. Potassium is often added to multivitamins, but people who wish to take extra potassium may purchase it as a single- or fewer ingredient supplements.
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What are the daily intake recommendations?
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends the following dietary intake of potassium. Adults 19 years and older should take in 4.7 g per day, while women who are breast-feeding should take in 5.1 g per day. Teens between the ages of 14 and 18 years should take in 4.7 g per day, while children between the ages of 9 and 13 years should take in 4.5 g per day. Children between the ages of four and eight years should take in 3.8 g per day, while children between the ages of one and three should take in 3 g per day. Infants between the ages of 7 and 12 months should take in 0.7 g per day, while newborns up to 6 months should take in 0.4 g per day. 2 There is no tolerable upper limit for potassium.
Health Benefits of Potassium Intake
Here we know about the health benefits with an intake of potassium:
- High blood pressure
In a randomized, placebo-controlled crossover study published in 2015 in the Journal of Human Hypertension, researchers from the Netherlands examined the effects of potassium and sodium supplementation on blood pressure and arterial stiffness in 37 untreated pre-hypertensive people. During the study, the subjects ate a “fully controlled diet” that was relatively low in potassium and sodium. The subjects were told to keep other lifestyle behaviors, such as physical activity, “constant.” After a one-week “run-in” period, the subjects took capsules with supplemental potassium, supplemental sodium, or a placebo, each for four weeks. Thirty-six subjects completed the study. They had a mean pre-treatment blood pressure of 145/81 mm Hg, and 69 percent had a systolic blood pressure at or above 140 mm Hg. When the participants were taking the potassium supplementation, they experienced significant reductions in blood pressure. The researchers concluded that “increase in intake of potassium, on top of a relatively low-sodium diet, provides beneficial effect on Blood pressure.”
In a meta-analysis published in 2015 in the Journal of Hypertension, researchers from Switzerland wanted to learn more about the ability of potassium to lower blood pressure in non-medicated people with or without high blood pressure. In addition, the researchers examined the association between potassium intake, sodium-to-potassium ratio, and reductions in blood pressure. The cohort consisted of 15 randomized, controlled trials with a total of 917 patients. All of the studies, which were published between 1984 and 2010, were conducted for at least four weeks. The researchers learned that potassium supplementation reduced levels of systolic blood pressure, especially in people who were hypertensive. And they concluded that their findings “approve complete benefit of increase in potassium intake by patients having uplifting BP, especially with not antihypertensive treatment.”
- Kidneys and cardiovascular health
In an observational study published in 2015 in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers from Japan explained that people with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for a variety of health concerns, such as kidney and cardiovascular problems. In fact, it has been shown that people with type 2 diabetes have a significantly higher risk of developing end-stage renal disease and cardiovascular disease. Should people with type 2 diabetes consume more potassium? The cohort, which was formed between 1996 and 2003, consisted of 623 people who had type 2 diabetes and normal renal functioning. Follow-up continued until 2013; the median follow-up period was 11 years. The study measured amounts of potassium in the urine; people with higher amounts of potassium in their urine took in higher amounts of potassium. The researchers found that higher intakes of potassium were associated with lower risk of renal dysfunction and low risk of cardiovascular problems. And they concluded that “higher excretion of urinary potassium was linked with slower decline of renal function and minor incidence of cardiovascular problems in type 2 diabetic patients with normal renal function.”
- Reduce chances of Stroke
In a meta-analysis published in 2011 in the journal Stroke, researchers from Sweden examined the association between intake of potassium and risk of stroke. The cohort consisted of 10 independent prospective studies, published between 1987 and 2011, that contained a total of 8,695 cases of stroke and 268,276 participants. Half of the studies were conducted in the United States. The other studies took place in Europe, Japan, and Taiwan. The researchers found a statistically significant inverse association between potassium intake and the risk of stroke. For every 1,000 mg per day increase in potassium intake, the risk of total stroke decreased by 11 per cent. The reductions in stroke were most often seen in ischemic strokes or those caused by a blood clot that disrupts the blood supply to the brain.
- Stronger bones
Potassium is beneficial for promoting bone health. This mineral has certain properties which stabilize various body acids that help in retaining and preserving calcium making it helpful for bone strength and durability. Additionally, a study shows that intake of fruits and vegetables have high content of potassium resulting to high mineral density in bones extending its lifespan.
- Neural activity
It assists in maintenance of electrical conductivity of brain and affects brain function drastically. It involves in brain function such as memory retention and learning. Moreover, health problems such as epilepsy are related with dysfunction of potassium channels which takes place by deficiency of potassium. Literally, potassium currents have a crucial role in mammalian neurons. These channels are intertwined with various neural function and supports moderating and regulating electrical currents through entire body.
- Lowers anxiety and stress
It is helpful for people with undesirable mental states such as anxiety and stress. It acts as a stress buster and effectively improves mental performance. Anxiety and stress are destructive health aspects. Potassium is helpful to combat chronic stress. It stabilizes various hormones in body including stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and a surplus could be harmful to the body’s systems.
- Fluid balance
It is required to maintain fluid balance in the body. Various cells call for correct water balance in order to have efficient operation and potassium benefits cells in stabilizing balance. Fluid balance helps to maintain functions of organ systems in one or another way so it is recommended to consume bananas after sporty events.
- Function of nervous system
Potassium promotes efficiency of nerve reflexes which conveys message from one part of the body to next. It assists muscle contraction for carrying out various functions each day without being tired quickly.
- Lowers appearance of cellulite
Fluid retention is the major cause of cellulite. Potassium is found to be helpful in eliminating excess waste from cells by also minimizing cellulite appearance.
- Body growth
In fact body requires potassium for process and use of carbohydrates that is consumed. Being an adult or child, potassium is required for building muscle and protein. Potassium ensures the continuity of development at healthy and normal rate.
What happens with too little or too much Potassium intake?
In the United States, potassium deficiency is believed to be very common. This is thought to be the direct result of the heavy reliance on processed foods. But other factors increase the risk of a deficiency. Women and African Americans appear to be at increased risk for deficiency. People who undergo an activity that increases fluid loss—such as exercising or working outside in hot weather— may lose potassium. Moreover, potassium deficiency is seen in people who suffer from frequent vomiting and acute or chronic diarrhea, as well as those with ongoing gastrointestinal problems. Symptoms of low levels of blood potassium, a condition known as hypokalemia, are weak muscles, abnormal heart rhythms, and a rise in blood pressure.
“Hyperkalemia” is the name for excess amounts of potassium in the blood. It may trigger abnormal and dangerous heart rhythms. Hyperkalemia may be caused by poor kidney function, certain heart medications, such as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin 2 receptor blockers, potassium sparing diuretics, and severe infections.
Is It Possible to Develop Potassium Toxicity?
With elevation of blood potassium level (hyperkalemia), it would certainly affect the proper functioning of the excitable tissue, especially the heart and brain. The heart may actually fail to beat if hyperkalemia is severe and prolonged. Together with sodium, blood potassium levels are monitored closely in people diagnosed with diseases affecting their kidneys.