Potassium is an electrolyte and one of the seven essential macrominerals that assists the body in a variety of physiological functions.
This key electrolyte also regulates fluid balance and controls electrical activity of the heart and other muscles. Potassium, the third most abundant mineral in the body, is required for several key organs, such as the kidneys, brain and heart. (1)
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that fewer than two percent of people in the US consume enough potassium daily, which should be around 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day. Being deficient in potassium can lead to anything from mild issues such as fatigue to more serious issues such as respiratory failure and paralysis.
Hypokalemia (potassium deficiency) occurs when potassium levels fall below 3.5 mmol/L. This can be diagnosed using a blood test. Low levels of potassium can be regulated through diet and supplements.
Experiencing increased levels of stress, over exercising, and eating a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables can all contribute to potassium imbalances.
9 Health Benefits of Potassium
1. Potassium Helps Regulate Blood Pressure
Studies found that the higher the sodium to potassium ratio, the higher the risk of developing hypertension and disease. Potassium can be useful in managing blood pressure as it eases tension in your blood vessel walls and lessens the effects of sodium. (2)
2. Potassium Provides Adrenal Support
When we are under a lot of stress, our bodies excrete potassium in order to increase the production of electrical currents that help our body run. Our cells are electrically charged by minerals such as potassium. Potassium is found inside of our cells, while sodium is found outside of our cells. If there is excessive sodium and deficient potassium in our cells, excess adrenal activity takes place. This leads to adrenal insufficiency. Replacing potassium in the diet supports adrenal gland functioning when we are unable to keep up with the daily stress we place on them. (3)
3. Potassium Boosts Cardiovascular Health
Studies found that increasing potassium intake reduces cardiovascular disease mortality. This is due to the blood pressure-lowering effect and may also be because of the direct effects of potassium on the cardiovascular system. Having low or reduced serum potassium levels increases the risk of ventricular arrhythmias in those with ischaemic heart disease and heart failure. Increasing potassium intake can prevent this and support cardiovascular health. (4)
4. Potassium Helps Maintain Calcium Balance
Potassium may prevent vascular calcification, or the buildup of calcium in the smooth muscle cells within arteries. Research shows that low potassium increases the calcium levels within smooth muscle cells. High levels of calcium can lead to the activation of a protein called CREB (cAMP response element-binding protein). CREB is a critical part of the calcification process when potassium levels are low. (5)
5. Potassium Promotes Bone Health
Potassium balances pH, neutralize and buffer acids, which is vital in reserving the alkaline state of our bones. Our bones store a backup reserve of alkaline materials (such as potassium) to maintain pH balance throughout the body. Potassium salts neutralize bone-depleting metabolic acids, which eat away at our bone integrity. It conserves calcium within the body as well and reduces urinary calcium loss, which is essential for bone health. (6)
6. Potassium May Prevent Diabetes
Low serum potassium is related to glucose intolerance, and increasing potassium intake may prevent the development of diabetes. Certain diabetes medications can affect potassium levels throughout the body, and taking insulin can also cause your potassium levels to drop. (7)
7. Potassium Improves Muscle Strength
When individuals are dehydrated, due to imbalances in key electrolytes such as potassium, they might experience decreased athletic performance and recovery. Potassium decreases muscle weakness and improves overall muscle strength. Roughly nine percent of our body’s potassium is stored within our body’s cells, making it important for cellular contraction as well as regulating muscle function. (8)
8. Potassium Prevents Muscle Cramping
Cellular and circulating concentrations of potassium are needed for systemic electrolyte balance, which affects muscle spasms and cramping. If you experience cramping frequently, this could be a sign of low potassium levels. Studies even found potassium to beneficial for PMS cramping. (9)
9. Potassium Improves Brain Health
Potassium plays a role in stimulating neural activity, which is important for keeping brain functioning at optimal levels. This key mineral increases oxygenation of brain tissues, helping to relax the blood vessels and optimize blood flow to the brain. (10)
Top 8 Foods High in Potassium (11)
- Sweet Potato (1 cup) 950 mg
- Salmon (1/2 fillet) 772 mg
- Watermelon (2 wedges) 641 mg
- Coconut Water (1 cup) 600 mg
- Butternut Squash (1 cup) 582 mg
- Spinach (1 cup) 540 mg
- Beets (1 cup) 518 mg
- Avocado (1/2) 488 mg
The Bottom Line
The adequate intake recommendation for potassium is 4,700 milligrams per day for adults. While supplementing with potassium can be an easier option, getting potassium through a diet of whole, real foods is ideal. Fruit and vegetables are among the richest sources of dietary potassium. Checking your potassium levels through a blood test is also recommended before considering potassium supplementation.
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