Everything You Need to Know About Potassium
When a person has an annual checkup, the doctor frequently orders a blood test as part of the routine physical. The potassium test is part of a basic metabolic or electrolyte panel. It is used to detect abnormal potassium concentrations.
Page Contents - Quick Links
- Everything You Need to Know About Potassium
- What is Potassium?
- How Much Potassium Do You Need?
- Adequate Dietary Reference Intakes
- Top 7 Foods that Provide the Most Potassium
- 10 Other Foods that Are High in Potassium
- Potential Effects if You Don’t Get Enough Potassium
- What Happens if You Consume Too Much Potassium?
- What Are the Sicknesses that Potassium Prevents?
- Other benefits include:
- A Few Simple Tips to Getting Enough Potassium Every Day
What is Potassium?
Potassium is one of the elements found on the periodic table. It belongs to the metal category. Potassium is an element the body needs to work. Body processes like muscle contraction and oxygen transportation to the brain require potassium.
Pure potassium is not found in nature. It is extracted from compounds containing potassium. Pure potassium has an extreme reaction with water that produces potassium hydroxide and hydrogen gas. Even a little moisture in the air causes potassium to react. It must be stored in oil.
- Potassium is important for the proper cell, tissue, and organ function.
- It is an electrolyte, which means it conducts electricity in the body along with manganese, calcium, chloride, and sodium.
- Potassium is crucial for the functioning of the heart.
- It has a key role in smooth and skeletal muscle contractions.
- Those contractions impact normal muscular and digestive function.
Potassium is found in many foods including legumes, vegetables, fruits, some types of fish and all meats.
How Much Potassium Do You Need?
Even though potassium is contained in a wide food variety, most people do not get enough. The reason is probably linked to the average diet being low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods, low in potassium.
A full-blown potassium deficiency is rare and usually caused by use of diuretics, strenuous exercise, or severe diarrhea. The Health and Medicine Division of National Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine sets the Daily Recommended Intake based on age. Both sexes require the same amount with the exception of women who breastfeed. They require a bit more daily.
Adequate Dietary Reference Intakes
- Zero to six months: 400 mg daily
- Seven to 12 months: 700 mg daily
- One to three years of age: 3 g daily
- Four to eight years: 3.8 g daily
- Nine to 13 years: 4.5 g daily
- 14 years or older: 4.7 g daily
- Pregnant women: 4.7 g daily
- Breastfeeding women: 5.1 g daily
The best way to guarantee an adequate potassium intake is to increase potassium-rich food intake. Consuming potassium-rich foods helps reduce kidney stone risk. Kidney disease patients may need to watch the amount of potassium intake.
Top 7 Foods that Provide the Most Potassium
Bananas are probably the first source of potassium that comes to mind for nutrition- conscious individuals. Each medium banana has 422 mg of potassium, which is about nine percent of the 4.7 g (RDI). The following seven foods provide more potassium than bananas.
A medium baked potato contains 941 mg of potassium. Letting a potato cool before eating provides a dose of resistant starch, friendly to the digestive system. Potato salad does not have to be avoided.
A cup of tomato sauce has 728 mg of potassium. Top off pasta with tomato sauce.
Two watermelon wedges are a refreshing way of adding 648 mg of potassium. It is also a wonderful source of lycopene that occurs naturally in plant pigment and is linked to certain cancer risk reduction.
The slightly sweet fall favorite has 582 mg of potassium in a one cup serving. Butternut squash mac-and-cheese is a delicious, guilt-free way to add potassium to the diet.
A medium sweet potato has 542 mg of potassium. A baked sweet potato is ridiculously tasty and is also rich in Vitamin A.
A cup of frozen spinach added to a pasta dish or stir-fry provides 518 mg of potassium. The inexpensiveness of frozen spinach is a bonus.
A cup of sliced, cooked beets contains 518 mg of potassium. Do not be alarmed by a pink or red color when urinating. The presence of color is totally normal.
10 Other Foods that Are High in Potassium
Potential Effects if You Don’t Get Enough Potassium
Potassium has many bodily functions of importance. Only a small amount is required each day. People who do not get enough can suffer low potassium consequence. Having too little in the body can cause harm.
Lab Tests Online reports the normal level of potassium in the blood is between 3.5 and 5.1 milliequivalents for each liter. A balance of potassium is maintained by the body. Extra potassium is sent from the body in urine.
Medical conditions and medicines may cause too much potassium to be flushed out in fluids. A serious drop in the level of potassium may occur. Medications containing diuretics, excessive sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting are common causes of low levels of potassium.
- According to the Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals, symptoms may not manifest until levels of potassium drop below three milliequivalents per liter. People with heart problem history or those who take digoxin, a heart medication, are at greater risk of developing low potassium symptoms with only a slight decrease.
- Muscles need potassium to function properly. People low in potassium have muscles that feel weak. Holding objects or walking can be difficult. The lower the potassium level is, the worse the symptoms.
- The University of Maryland Medical Center warns of muscle paralysis. Diaphragm muscles are responsible for breathing. Diaphragm paralysis can cause respiratory failure.
- Blood pressure can increase when potassium levels are low. The body is more susceptible to sodium effects in the diet that increase blood pressure.
- Low potassium symptoms and signs include abnormal heart rhythms. Some people are aware of the heartbeat change. Others learn of the heart arrhythmia after undergoing an electrocardiogram to test for the heart’s electrical activity.
What Happens if You Consume Too Much Potassium?
Excess potassium in the bloodstream is called hyperkalemia. It is a condition that is potentially fatal. According to the Mayo Clinic, the normal range of potassium levels is between 3.6 and 4.8 milliequivalents per liter.
A potassium level above 6.0 is dangerous and merits immediate medical attention. Underlying renal disease is the common cause of hyperkalemia. It inhibits the ability of the kidneys to remove excess potassium.
Symptoms of dangerously high levels of potassium in the blood include:
None of those symptoms are exclusively caused by hyperkalemia, but having them places you in a group that is at risk. Immediate medical attention should be sought. High risks groups include those with:
- Hemolytic conditions
- Renal disease.
- Addison’s disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Crush injuries
- Recent surgery
People not part of one of these high-risk groups, who take prescribed potassium supplements due to low levels of potassium should know the side effects of the supplement mimic hyperkalemia.
The University of Maryland recommends contacting a doctor if symptoms progress beyond general symptoms such as chest pain, irregular heartbeat, or severe stomach pain.
Potassium has a role in homeostasis and muscle function regulation. It balances electrical and chemical impulses in the body. When the levels of potassium are too high muscle regulation, including heartbeat can be inhibited. Muscle inhibition leads to:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Absent or reduced pulse
- Weakness of muscles
- Breathing difficulty
- Numbness and tingling in extremities
What Are the Sicknesses that Potassium Prevents?
The Journal of the American College of Cardiology recently published an article about the relationship between potassium intake and our two top killers, heart disease and stroke. The article recommends increasing potassium intake by 1600 mg per day to enjoy the 21 percent lower stroke risk associated with the increased intake.
The Lancet, a British medical journal reports findings of a Swedish study that potassium can reduce the risk of stroke. The same publication mentioned blood pressure is lowered by increasing potassium levels.
Potassium enables the heart to beat in a way that is healthy. Potassium may be key to rhythm problems.
Dr. Oz tells us balanced potassium and sodium levels aid in treating or preventing
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
Other benefits include:
- Potassium is a crucial electrolyte. It is necessary for nervous system electrical conductivity.
- It is needed for muscle formation and function.
- Potassium also uses sodium to balance water levels.
- It assists the body’s pH buffering to maintain a healthy balance that is slightly alkaline. The balance is vital to immunity and overall health.
- Potassium aids in dissolving excess calcium that prevents the formation of calcified tissues and kidney stones.
- There is no direct link between potassium and lower cholesterol. However, diets that lower cholesterol are high in potassium.
A Few Simple Tips to Getting Enough Potassium Every Day
Potassium is an unsung hero for a myriad of body functions. It helps balance mineral and fluid levels, supports contraction of muscles, and transmits nerve impulses. Potassium blunts the high-sodium diet effect that causes a raise in blood pressure. It may prevent bone loss in the future.
Most Americans, unfortunately, do not get enough potassium. Less than three percent meet recommended intake levels. A love affair with convenience foods and beverages and a shortfall of low-fat dairy products, beans, vegetables, and fruits are contributing factors.
Focusing on an overall dietary pattern in which a nutrient-rich, balanced diet is consumed is the first step. The key food groups, outlined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, are packed with potassium and meet all nutrient needs.
Top picks include:
- Canned, dried, and fresh fruits
- Frozen, canned, or fresh vegetables
- Bagged or canned beans containing little or no sodium and no added sugar
- Low-fat yogurt and milk
Let it be known that information contained in this article comes from reliable sources. The information is based on data available at the time the article was written. This information is intended as a supplement to the care provided by professional health caregivers.
It is neither implied or intended to be a professional medical advice substitute. A suspected malady thought to be caused by either a deficiency in or excess of potassium should be addressed by a healthcare provider. Before starting any new health regimen, seek the advice of a physician or other qualified professional.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes. There is no guarantee or warranty that the information is 100 percent accurate.