Potassium with its atomic number 19 is a very important member of the periodic table. This trace mineral is in a way synonymous with other two important and leading electrolytes – sodium and chloride. However, apart from its chemical description what does this mineral salt do for the human body? In this article, we cover all the many benefits, sources and deficiency symptoms of Potassium.
What Is Potassium?
Potassium was first isolated from Potash (therefore the name), and was given the symbol K. Potassium is always related to and referred along with Sodium and Chloride. However, Potassium is the most important mineral salt among the group. In the human body the average potassium level is 140 grams.
Potassium is found in various forms such as Potassium Acetate/ Bicarbonate/Citrate (also known as Trikates), Potassium Phosphate, Potassium Bicarbonate, Potassium/Sodium Phosphate and Potassium Gluconate. However, the most common form of Potassium is Potassium Chloride.
Potassium is essential for the human body because it helps in converting blood sugar into glycogen. Glycogen is then stored in the muscles and liver as an important form of sugar. If the level of potassium in the body falls simultaneously the amount of glycogen stored in the cells also falls drastically, resulting in extreme loss of energy in humans. Potassium is controlled in our body by adenosine triphosphatase (ATP) which regulates the flow of potassium and sodium in our cells.
Potassium is generally taken as an oral solution with water or with other liquid. Potassium supplements must be taken with meals or atleast 1 hour after taking the meals. Potassium supplements may be mostly needed for the following categories of individuals – vegetarians, those above 55 years, pregnant women & lactating mothers, women who take oral contraceptives, those who consume alcohol or use tobacco, those who have recently undergone any surgical procedure and those with burn injuries.
Potassium is always compared to Sodium as the Potassium-Sodium balance is invaluable for the human body. Most diseases occur when the amount of Sodium increases in the diet when compared to the amount of Potassium. A diet which is high in Sodium and low in Potassium plays as a precursor to serious ailments like cardiovascular diseases and cancer. However, to counter this problem many people take a low-sodium diet which surprisingly has been found to be ineffective. This is because the human diet should be properly balanced with high intake of Potassium along with a sodium restrictive diet. Most processed foods available in the market (also known as junk foods) have high amounts of Sodium (twice that of Potassium). Many clinical studies have proven that a balanced diet is one in which potassium to sodium ratio is 5:1.
How Does It Work?
The human cell works by constantly pumping out sodium and pumping in potassium. In case the cell pump does not work properly water gets accumulated in the cells causing them to burst. The sodium-potassium pumping process plays an important role in maintaining the electrical charge for the cell. This electrical charge is responsible for the functioning of nerve cells and muscles in our body. If potassium is in optimum amount in the cells the nerves and muscles work efficiently.
Food Sources Of Potassium
Potassium is found in the following natural food sources – vegetables & fruits such as carrots, asparagus, beans, green peas, banana, avocados, grapefruit, tomato, cantaloupe, chard, potato, spinach and citrus fruits. It is also found in – milk, nuts, raisins, whole grain cereal, canned sardines, molasses, ham, beef etc.
Benefits Of Potassium
This mineral plays a variety of small but vital roles in the human body. For example, Potassium helps in the process of energy conversion and it also is responsible for the functioning of the intestinal tract. Apart from converting blood sugar into glycogen, Potassium also helps in the synthesis of protein in our body.
For A Healthy Heart
Potassium is responsible for the proper functioning of the human heart. Low amounts of potassium in the body leads to the problem of irregular heart beat.
For The Proper Functioning Of Muscles And cells
Potassium helps in the normal contraction of muscles and is also responsible for maintaining the optimum water balance in cells. In short, potassium plays a key role in the functioning of the nerve cells, heart cells, muscles, intestine and even kidneys.
For Preventing High BP
One of the leading causes of high blood pressure is the low levels of potassium in the body. Studies have proven that optimum levels of potassium in the body prevent high BP in humans.
Potassium helps in treating the following disorders – problems in the body due to excessive alcohol/drug/tobacco intake, acne, allergies, burns, kidney stones and, fatigue and mood swings associated with menopause.
Deficiency Symptoms Of Potassium
Potassium deficiency may occur due to excessive sweating, urination and diarrhea. Therefore, athletes and those working under extreme sunlight may lose more potassium than others. Similarly, some drugs that impact the sodium levels may result in potassium deficiency. Those using Diuretic medicines for kidney related ailments must be more careful about their potassium levels.
Symptoms associated with the deficiency of potassium in humans include the following – fatigue, muscle weakness, Hypokalemia, paralysis, palpitation and Hypoglycemia.
To avoid deficiency of potassium due to man-made reasons always – avoid adding too much water while cooking food, avoid canned and frozen food and as far as possible eat fruits & vegetables with their skin.
To determine whether you are deficient in potassium or not, order the following lab tests – Serum Creatinine, Serum-potassium determinations, Serum-pH determinations, ECG etc. The optimum levels of potassium in the body should be somewhere between 1875 mg to 5625 mg.
Generally, a daily dosage level ranging between 2000 mg to 5000 mg is considered safe for potassium supplements. Those who are planning to take potassium for correcting any disorder can go up to 4000 mg per day.
Side Effects & Overdose
Possible minor side effects of potassium supplementation include the following – confusion, diarrhea, fatigue, heaviness in legs, numbness in hands/feet, palpitation, nausea, stomach discomfort, tingling sensation in hands/feet, vomiting etc.
Possible serious side-effects include the following – black stool, bloody stool and extreme difficult in breathing.
Signs of overdose include the following – irregular or fast heart beat, sudden dip in the BP levels, paralysis, cardiac arrest, convulsions and even coma.
Even though potassium may be beneficial for pregnant & lactating women, they should not use it unless it is recommended by their doctor. Also, the following categories of individuals should also consult their physicians before going ahead with Potassium supplements – those with Addison’s disease, those with diabetes, intestinal blockage, stomach ulcer and heart disease.
How To Store?
Store Potassium supplements in a cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight and moisture. Do not freeze.
Possible Drug Interactions
Avoid Potassium if you are taking the following – potassium-sparing diuretics (thiazide), Amiloride, Atropine, Belladonna, Calcium, Laxatives, Triamterene etc.