Potassium is a mineral that, once inside the body, operates as an electrolyte and becomes essential to the maintenance of proper neural and muscle function.
In partnership with sodium, it helps maintain fluid volume and pH balance, and creates what’s known as a concentration gradient that assists in heartbeat regulation and muscle contraction.
Between the two minerals–potassium and sodium–can you guess which one most people get too little of?
Here’s a hint: we don’t have shakers of it on our kitchen counters and dining tables.
If you guessed potassium, you were right. The average adult needs 4,700 mg of potassium daily compared to only 200 mg of sodium.
Yet common eating habits fill us with too much sodium (3,300 mg a day) and not nearly enough potassium.
This is an imbalance that can cause muscle cramps, problems with nerve transmission, hypertension, fluid balance and cellular function throughout the body.
Aching or stiff muscles, tingling, numbness, and/or heart palpitations can also be indicative of low potassium.
Low potassium has been considered both a risk factor for and symptom of conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, which is marked by changes in muscle tissue, including strength, tone, and resiliency, as well as the inability to generate strong nerve conduction.
Potassium imbalances can be caused by certain medications. If you are taking any of the medications mentioned below, you should have your potassium monitored regularly
- Loop diuretic, such as furosemide (Lasix®) and bumetanide (Bumex®), or a thiazide diuretic, such as chlorothiazide (Diuril®) and metolazone (Zaroxolyn®) can lead to loss of potassium.
- ACE inhibitors, such as benazepril (Lotensin®); angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), such as losartan (Cozaar®); and potassium sparing diuretics, such as amiloride (Midamor®) and spironolactone (Aldactone®) can lead to high potassium. Symptoms of high potassium include weakness, nausea or vomiting, trouble breathing, chest pain and palpitations.
When potassium levels are just right, blood pressure and fluid levels stay in optimal balance, providing protection against stroke, kidney stones, and more serious muscle or nervous system conditions.
Great sources of potassium include cooked beet greens, Portobello mushrooms, avocado, spinach, kale, salmon, bananas, and yams. (If you’ve read ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine, you know that looking to food for beneficial minerals and nutrients–and flavor, of course–has long been my jam.)
This database link from the USDA shows you just how much potassium you’ll get from these and other top food sources.
You can also make your own Gatorade-type drink at home to help maintain proper balance of electrolytes, including potassium.
Taking too much potassium can lead to kidney damage or even heart arrhythmia. You’ll want to consult with your physician regarding the right dose for you.