Potassium is one of the most important minerals in the body. It is an essential macromineral found in the foods you eat. The importance of potassium is highly underestimated.
Potassium is classified as an electrolyte because it’s highly reactive in water. When dissolved in water, it produces positively charged ions. This special property allows it to conduct electricity, which is important for many processes throughout the body.
Potassium is responsible for many crucial roles in the body, including maintaining normal blood pressure, transmitting nerve signals between organs, controlling muscle contractions, ensuring optimal water balance within the system, balancing pH in the body between acidity and alkalinity, upholding accurate heart rate i.e. pulse, regulating proper digestion processes, preventing stroke and heart disease and sustaining regular heart muscle activity.
Potassium Helps Regulate Fluid Balance
The body is made of approximately 60% water.40% of this water is found inside your cells in a substance called intracellular fluid(ICF).The remainder is found outside your cells in areas such as your blood, spinal fluid and between cells. This fluid is called extracellular fluid (ECF).Interestingly, the amount of water in the ICF and ECF is affected by their concentration of electrolytes, especially potassium and sodium.
Potassium is the main electrolyte in the ICF, and it determines the amount of water inside the cells. Conversely, sodium is the main electrolyte in the ECF, and it determines the amount of water outside the cells. The number of electrolytes relative to the amount of fluid is called osmolality. Under normal conditions, the osmolality is the same inside and outside your cells. When osmolality is unequal, water from the side with fewer electrolytes will move into the side with more electrolytes to equalize electrolyte concentrations. This may cause cells to shrink as water moves out of them, or swell up and burst as water moves into them.That’s why it’s important to make sure you consume the right electrolytes, including potassium. Maintaining good fluid balance is important for optimal health. Poor fluid balance can lead to dehydration, which in turn affects the heart and kidneys. Eating a potassium-rich diet and staying hydrated can help maintain a good fluid balance.
Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Health
Potassium doesn’t treat or prevent heart disease. But getting enough of it can help your heart in many ways.
Better blood pressure: A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods can help cut systolic blood pressure by more than 10 points in people with high blood pressure. An adequate potassium intake may prevent or manage high blood pressure. And if a person has a high potassium intake and a low sodium intake, this may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. You shouldn’t take potassium pills unless your doctor recommends it.
Lower cholesterol: While there’s no direct link between the two, many diets that lower cholesterol are also high in potassium, as well as fruits and veggies. If you drop your LDL (bad cholesterol), the chance you’ll get heart disease will also go down.
Regulated heartbeat: Potassium enables your heart to beat in a healthy way. So, if you have rhythm problems, potassium may be key.
Potassium and Bone Health
Potassium may play a role in bone health. Studies have suggested that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables that contain potassium may have higher bone mineral density.
Experiencing bone loss means your bones are losing a whole range of minerals – not just calcium! Potassium and calcium are able to work together synergistically to inhibit bone resorption. So make sure you have enough potassium and calcium to maximize the benefits for your bones! The best source of these nutrients are natural whole foods, organic and grown without harmful pesticides.
We need potassium to keep the electrochemical balance across cell membranes. This is vital to transmit nerve signals. This leads to skeletal muscle contraction, hormone release, and smooth muscle and heart contraction.
When blood potassium levels are low, your muscles produce weaker contractions. Deficiency in potassium may affect how your body uses nutrients in a way that can result in fatigue. You can develop muscle fatigue or muscle weakness due to high potassium levels. Simple activities like walking can make you feel weak. Your muscles may also lose their ability to function properly, resulting in exhaustion. You may even experience a dull, continuous ache in your muscles.
A diet high in potassium may also help preserve muscle mass in older people and people who have health conditions that lead to muscle wasting.
Potassium is Important for the Nervous System
The nervous system relays messages between your brain and body. These messages are delivered in the form of nerve impulses and help regulate your muscle contractions, heartbeat, reflexes and many other body functions. Interestingly, nerve impulses are generated by sodium ions moving into cells and potassium ions moving out of cells. The movement of ions changes the voltage of the cell, which activates a nerve impulse. A drop in blood levels of potassium can affect the body’s ability to generate a nerve impulse. Getting enough potassium from your diet can help you maintain healthy nerve function.
Potassium may help prevent kidney stones. Kidney stones are clumps of material that may form in concentrated urine. In healthy individuals, low potassium levels may inhibit the kidneys’ ability to reabsorb calcium. High calcium levels in the kidneys can result in kidney stones. Several studies show that potassium citrate lowers calcium levels in urine. In this way, potassium may help fight kidney stones.
People with kidney failure should not consume too much potassium, as it could have a negative impact.
Low potassium (Hypokalemia)
Consuming too little potassium can lead to serious health issues. The main causes of hypokalemia are the use of potassium-wasting diuretics, some forms of kidney disease, or metabolic disturbances. You also run the risk of low potassium levels following an episode of vomiting or diarrhea, which dehydrates you quite a bit. Other causes of hypokalemia are alcoholism, overuse or abuse of laxatives and magnesium depletion.
Although potassium is required only in minor quantities as part of the daily diet for children and adults, it is still a significant component of nutrition. Natural food sources of potassium are abundant. Potassium is present in many plant-based foods, but processing reduces the levels of this nutrient. Anyone with a diet high in processed foods may have a low potassium intake. Many processed foods are also high in sodium, so a person with a highly processed diet may need to increase their potassium intake accordingly.
Overall, dried fruits and pulses are good sources of potassium. Food sources of potassium include vegetables like green leafy cruciferous plants – spinach, kale broccoli, as well as carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and beetroots. The list includes fruits such as bananas, apricots, oranges and grapefruit, whole grains like brown rice, wheat bread and oat bran. Potassium is present also in seeds and nuts including hazelnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and almonds.