Looking to lose weight? Try our FREE Calorie Counter »  |  Log In
Articles Fitness Nutrition

Understanding Potassium & Its Vital Health Functions

Understanding what potassium is and the role it plays in the overall functioning of your body is important. This understanding will enable you to make healthy food choices that are optimum, in combination with other factors. Without the appropriate amount of potassium intake (or presence in the body), health problems will become an issue. Health issues can also arise when too much potassium is ingested or present.

What is Potassium?

Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte that works together with sodium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. Potassium comes in the form of food content and in supplemental vitamins.

Major Functions of Potassium

The optimum amount of potassium in your body works to help your kidneys to function at a normal level. Potassium is also vital to the healthy functioning of your heart and contributes to smooth skeletal and muscle contraction. Potassium plays an important part in the proper functioning of your digestive system.

Appropriate Levels of Potassium

Unless it is ordered by your doctor, the only supplemental potassium you should be taking is that which is included in a daily multi-vitamin. Other potassium intake should be all dietary. The average amount of dietary potassium that should be taken by children ten years of age and older, and all adults, is 2000mg.

Dietary Sources of Potassium

There are certain foods that contain more potassium than others. The most common sources of dietary potassium are:

  • Bananas
  • Citrus Juices (orange
  • Chicken
  • Tomatoes
  • Flounder
  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Other Lean Meats
  • Avocados
  • Cantaloupe
  • Lima Beans
  • Kiwi
  • Peas

You can track your dietary potassium intake when you register on FitDay.

Too Much Potassium

It is possible for your body to have too much potassium. In the case of too much potassium, the result is a condition called hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia, in the most severe cases, can lead to death because too much potassium affects the function of the heart. One common cause of too much potassium in the body is from the dysfunction of the kidneys. Often, symptoms are not present or can be subtle, such as fatigue or nausea.

Too Little Potassium

Another condition to be aware of is hypokalemia. This condition results from having too little potassium present in your body. Typically, hypokalemia is not due to dietary structure. Most often, hypokalemia results when vomiting and diarrhea are present or when laxatives or certain medications are ingested.

It’s important to consult with a doctor when you experience muscle weakness, aches or cramps. This is particularly the case when these symptoms occur in conjunction with a new medication. Lack of potassium in the body is a serious condition which can result in death.

Medication Interaction

Some examples of medications to be aware of are:

  • Heparin
  • Diuretics
  • Antacids
  • Insulin
  • ACE Inhibitors, among others.

In general terms, normal potassium levels are achieved and sustained by eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Taking a daily vitamin also helps. Discuss with your doctor any variation of medications or irregular symptoms.

Article Comments