The element potassium is the seventh most abundant metal in the earth’s crust. Essential for plant growth, potassium acts as an electroylye in the body, conducting electricity. Potassium enables muscles to contract and the heart to function. It is a critical nutrient for many of the body’s functions.
Heart Disease. Blood Pressure and Stroke
Potassium is important for the proper function of the heart and helps heartbeat regularity. Studies have shown adding potassium to the diet lowers the risk of having a stroke, however, the source of potassium must be from foods, because supplemental potassium from nutritional supplements does not provide the protection. Potassium may also help lower blood pressure, according to some studies, but more information is needed to clarify these results.
Symptoms of Low Potassium Levels
The clinical name for low potassium levels is hypokalemia. This can be caused by losing potassium through by vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating. The symptoms include lack of energy, muscle cramps, weakness, irregular heartbeat, and stomach upset. The condition can be fatal if not treated. After exercise, the body needs to replenish the lost electrolytes, which is why athletes drink beverages containing sodium and potassium after an extensive workout, especially those that cause a lot of perspiration.
Bowel and Digestion
Potassium is needed for proper digestive function. Without potassium, the muscles of the digestive tract cannot properly contract and process food. People who have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease are at risk for having hypokalemia, because their intestines may not properly absorb potassium from the gut.
Potassium has been shown to help maintain bone health. For that reason, calcium and bone building supplements frequently contain added potassium.
Too Much Potassium
The kidneys are in charge of eliminating excess potassium. As the body ages, kidney function slows, and potassium can build up in the blood, causing a condition known as hyperlaemia. This condition can be aggravated by drugs, such as ACE inhibitors, which also can cause a rise in potassium levels.
Dietary Sources of Potassium
Potassium is readily available from common food sources. Potassium is found in many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits such as lemons, grapefruits and oranges. Bananas are an excellent source of potassium as well. Potatoes and lima beans contain potassium as do animal protein sources, such as chicken and fish, especially salmon, cod and flounder.
Recommended Daily Allowance
The recommended daily intake (RDA) of potassium is 2,000 mg a day for adults. Infants and children need between 500 mg and 1,500 mg depending on their age and weight.