Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in your body and has an important role to play in the daily functioning of the human body. Potassium is alkaline and constitutes 5% of the total mineral content of your body. It's easily absorbed, but almost 90% of it is excreted through the kidneys. It's also vital in the elimination of body wastes.
When working in conjunction with sodium, Potassium regulates the water and acid-base balance within the cells of the body. With all these important roles, Potassium depletion can cause problems within your body and lead to symptoms such as:
- Dry skin
- Muscle weakness
- Slow reflexes
If these symptoms are ignored, potassium depletion can lead to heart problems.
Reasons for Depletion of Potassium
In a healthy body, your body will naturally balance your potassium levels. However, any illness or disease which affects the kidneys and liver could deplete the body's potassium levels through excessive urination. Excessive fluid loss, which can occur through diarrhea or vomiting, can also deplete the body's potassium levels.
According to some scientists, potassium has the ability to pump sodium out of your body's cells and reduce body fluid. High sodium diets are often blamed for the high sodium-potassium ratio and the cause of high blood pressure. It's more likely to be indicative of the relative deficiency of other minerals like calcium and magnesium. Prolonged dehydration can also cause depletion of potassium. This release of potassium is a sign of protein catabolism and tissue wasting.
Potassium will also be lost from cellular spaces if an excessive loss of sodium occurs, and a magnesium deficiency contributes to potassium loss.
Effects of Potassium Depletion
Heart beat irregularities are commonly considered a classic sign of potassium deficiency. Magnesium and potassium are absolutely essential for the proper functioning of the entire cardiovascular system. It prevents heart disease and strokes. The high sodium-potassium ratio in your body could also be indicative of hidden metal toxicity. Metals like copper, cadmium, mercury, nickel and aluminum all elevate sodium levels and suppress potassium, causing high sodium-potassium ratios.
Stress can cause an increase in the sodium-potassium ratio within your body. The adrenal hormones produce aldosterone and cortisol, which are the two main hormones which regulate sodium and potassium levels. The sodium-potassium ratio can be taken as a rough indicator of the secretion of aldosterone in relation to cortisol, and this balance is critical for optimum health. When your body becomes exhausted, adrenal and thyroid glandular activity decrease, causing an acute stress response which also causes a high sodium-potassium ratio.
Dietary Sources of Potassium
Potassium depletion is not cause for major alarm since the vast majority of the foods we eat contain it. The best sources of potassium are fresh fruits and vegetables. The best choices among these are: potatoes, oranges, bitter greens, carrots, cabbage, onions and beets. Other great sources of potassium are whole grains, seeds, nuts, wheat germ, salmon, sardines, garlic and parsley. And, don't forget about the infamous potassium food: the banana!