Potassium helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. This mineral is important for a healthy nervous system and a regular heartbeat. Potassium also keeps your muscles and nerves functioning properly.
A diet low in fruits and vegetables accompanied by a diet high in processed, packaged foods typically results in a potassium deficiency. Studies demonstrate that excessive consumption of sodium coupled with a low dietary intake of potassium plays a major role in the development of high blood pressure. Researchers recommend a dietary potassium-to-sodium ratio of greater than 5:1 to maintain health. Yet, most Americans obtain less than 2,000 mg of potassium a day but consume in excess of 3,000-4,000 mg of sodium.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is an eating plan that features fruits and vegetables. It is high in fiber, low to moderate in fat and rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health have demonstrated that adhering to the DASH diet is an effective approach to lowering high blood pressure.
Obtaining adequate levels of potassium may help to offset increased calcium loss caused by a high-salt diet thereby preventing thinning of bone. Maintaining the density and strength of bones helps to prevent against the development of osteoporosis.
Potassium along with sodium, chloride, calcium and magnesium are electrolytes, substances that conduct electricity in the body. While the majority of potassium is stored within the body’s cells; sodium and chloride is found primarily outside of cells. These minerals work very closely together and the interrelationship between sodium and potassium is referred to as the “sodium-potassium pump”.
Maintaining a proper balance of potassium regulates the activity of muscles and nerves. This balance ensures that muscles do not cramp or fatigue and that our nerves do not become excitable.
Signs of a potassium deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, irritability, mental confusion, heart disturbances and problems with nerve conduction and muscle contraction.
The kidneys play an important role in eliminating potassium from the body. As a result, a person suffering with kidney disease needs to severely limit their intake of potassium.
Major Functions of Potassium:
– Maintains water and acid-base balance
– Supports muscle, nerve and heart function
– Important for normal digestive function
– Kidney and adrenal function
Plant sources especially fruits are high in potassium but unprocessed meats and fish contain sufficient quantities. Various nuts like almonds and pistachios are high in potassium.
Leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, romaine, cabbage, kale, parsley), fruit of vine based plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, pumpkin) and root vegetables (carrots, radishes, turnips, rutabaga, onions) are excellent sources of potassium.
Good sources of potassium include beans and peas (kidney beans, peas, green beans, chick peas, soy beans), tree fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, apricots, grapes, strawberries) and tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams).
Milk and dairy products such as skimmed milk, whole milk and yogurt are good sources of potassium.
When cooked, some foods lose a significant portion of their potassium content.
Recommended Dietary Allowance
Due to lack of definitive scientific data, the Institute of Medicine has not established an RDA or an Upper Tolerable Intake Level for potassium. However, the Adequate Intake Level (a recommendation when an RDA has not yet been established) is 4,700 mg per day for adults.
If you look on a nutritional supplement facts panel, you’ll notice the Amount Per Serving for potassium and the % Daily Values is at located at the top of the panel. The Amount Per Serving is based on the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for this nutrient which is considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of nearly all (97–98%) healthy individuals in each life-stage and sex group. The Reference Daily Intake for potassium is 3,500 mg.
Depleted levels of potassium or hypokalemia are often due to water loss as a result of excessive sweating, diarrhea, poor water intake and overuse of diuretics. Medications that deplete potassium include thiazide and loop diuretics (rid the body of sodium and potassium), corticosteroids, antacids and laxatives. Heavy coffee drinkers need more potassium. Stress increases the body’s potassium requirements.
Other drugs can cause high levels of potassium in the blood or hyperkalemia including Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitor class of blood-pressure lowering drugs and Beta-blockers . If you need to limit your potassium intake, you should be aware that many salt substitutes contain potassium.
Given that the dietary requirement for potassium is almost 5 grams per day, it would be difficult to obtain this amount from supplementation. The ideal way to meet your potassium requirements is by eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables that contain this mineral.
While some of VitaMedica’s Recovery and Wellness products are formulated with potassium the amount is small (25-75 mg). These products include Recovery Support Program, Clinical Support Program, Energy Support and Multi-Vitamin & Mineral.
Last updated July 1, 2018
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.