Potassium is an electrolyte critical to the functioning of every cell, tissue, and organ in the body. It functions in conjunction with other electrolytes in the body, including sodium, to conduct electricity in the body. Potassium is one of many ions that allows the heart to beat, the nerves to fire, and the muscles to contract. The kidneys adjust the balance of potassium and other electrolytes in the body to achieve optimal functioning.
While bananas are perhaps the best known source of potassium, potassium can also be found in meat, some fish, citrus fruit, dark leafy greens, and legumes. Sodium and potassium consumption are linked, as they work in tandem to maintain the electrical balance of the body. High sodium consumption typically requires high potassium consumption to counterbalance it. Most people consume an appropriate amount of potassium in their everyday diets, but if too much potassium is consumed or not enough is excreted, hyperkalemia (an excessive of potassium) can result. Consult a doctor before starting any potassium supplements. If you have kidney problems, ask your doctor how much potassium is appropriate to consume daily.
Potassium improves cardiovascular functioning in a number of ways. Potassium supplements can help lower blood pressure by decreasing the systolic (i.e., the top) number by as much as eight points. Dietary changes to increase potassium levels lead to the same results as a potassium citrate supplement. While there is no causative link between potassium and cholesterol, people who consume diets high in potassium typically have lower cholesterol. This could be because foods high in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables, are generally nutrient dense rather than the potassium concentration specifically. Improper levels of potassium can also be linked to abnormal heart rhythm, so proper potassium consumption may help correct that. Talk to your doctor about potassium testing if you have improper cardiovascular functioning. Potassium also reduces the risk of stroke and supports bone health, particularly in elderly women, and may help prevent osteoporosis.
Hypokalemia (too little potassium) is rarely caused by a dietary deficit. It is more often caused by too much potassium being lost in the urine and through digestion. Diarrhea, vomiting, malabsorption conditions including Crohn’s disease, malnutrition, and excessive sweating can also cause hypokalemia. Symptoms of hypokalemia include weakness, muscle cramping, stomach disturbances, an abnormal EKG reading (i.e. abnormal heart rhythm), and an irregular heat beat. This is a life-threatening condition and needs to be treated by a doctor. Excessive potassium is also dangerous; symptoms may include a burning sensation, weakness, paralysis, listlessness, dizziness, confusion, low blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm, and in extreme cases death.
Potassium in the right amounts is incredibly beneficial, and typically dietary amounts are right. Discuss any concerns you may have about your potassium consumption or potassium supplementation.
Research done by Ms. Christina Perri
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