Potassium is one of the seven essential macrominerals. Our bodies require at least 100 milligrams of potassium daily to support key processes.
There are many known benefits of potassium.
A high potassium intake decreases the risk of stroke, lowers blood pressure, protects against muscle mass loss, preserves bone mineral density and reduces the formation of kidney stones.
The main role of potassium is to regulate fluid levels and controlling the electrical activity of the heart and other muscles.
Potassium is an electrolyte that counteracts the effects of sodium, helping to maintain consistent blood pressure levels. It is also important for maintaining the balance of alkalis and bases in the body.
Blood pressure and cardiovascular health
One of the most important benefits of potassium is its impact on heart health.
Low potassium intake has repeatedly been linked with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, but ensuring a good intake of potassium may be just as important.
An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium is crucial to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In one study, those who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium per day had a 49% lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed about 1,000 mg per day.
Foods high in potassium
Potassium is found in many unprocessed foods.
The best sources of potassium are fresh leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes and beans. Bananas are also known to be high in potassium. Processing foods greatly reduces their potassium levels, therefore a diet high in processed foods is likely to be low in potassium.
Many processed foods are also high in sodium. Because of this, as the level of sodium increases the required levels of potassium must also increase.
A good way to counteract the negative effects of a high sodium diet is to balance it out with a good intake of potassium.
Potassium deficiency can cause a range of symptoms and health problems. It is also known as hypokalemia.
A normal potassium level is defined as between 3.5 and 5.0 millimoles per litre (mmol/L).
Symptoms of hypokalemia include:
Weakness and muscle pain
Severely low levels of potassium can lead to:
Severe muscle weakness and paralysis
Intermittent muscle spasms
Low potassium levels can be diagnosed using simple blood tests and remedied by alterations to diet, including the use of supplements.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful to people whose kidneys do not function correctly. Hyperkalemia is caused when the kidneys cannot remove enough potassium from the body.
This can be dangerous if the condition rapidly escalates. Severe or sudden hyperkalemia can cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and chest pain. At this stage, hyperkalemia can become a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.
High potassium levels have been linked to cardiac arrests.
Potassium is vital to the correct functioning of some of the body’s most important systems. It is, however, dangerous in high levels, and should only be used as part of a balanced diet.