Potassium is an essential mineral present in the body which is particularly important for the cell and electric function.
It is one of the main electrolytes (together with sodium and chloride). Therefore, it means that it has a small electric charge. In many of its tasks, potassium opposes sodium, and the two positive ions are balanced by the negative chloride ion.
What is it used for?
Importance of potassium
Together, potassium and sodium regulate the water balance and the acid-base balance in the blood and tissues. In fact, it enters the cell more easily than sodium and triggers a brief sodium-potassium exchange through the cell membranes.
Regarding nerve cells, this sodium-potassium flow produces the electricity that drives nerve impulses. When it comes from the cell, it changes the potential of the membrane and allows the nerve impulse to come back.
This electric potential created by the sodium-potassium bomb helps to produce muscle contractions and regulates the heartbeat.
Above all, this mineral is important for the cell biochemical reactions as well as the energy metabolism. Moreover, it is also involved in the carbohydrate metabolism. In fact, it helps to transform glucose into glycogen and store it so that it can be used as energy in the future.
High potassium levels
To put it simply, this disorder is known as hyperpotassemia. The main cause of an excess in the organism is due to an increase in the supply, redistribution or reduction of the renal excretion. Very high levels are a medical emergency due to the risk of heart arrhythmia.
An excess of potassium can trigger, for example:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps and/or muscle paralysis
- Heat arrhythmia
Some of the most common factors of a loss in our body are, for instance:
- Sweating (we can lose up to 3000mg per day)
- An excess of tea / coffee / caffeine drinks
- Some antibiotics
Symptoms of a deficiency
A deficiency is called hypopotassemia, producing a drop in the plasma. Consequently, it can have the following symptoms:
- Muscle and nervous dysfunction
- Fluid retention
- Heart arrhythmia (heartbeat alterations, palpitations)
- Muscle weakness
- Renal function deficiency
- Constant thirst
- Hypotension or low blood pressure
Recommended daily amount
According to the regulation (UE) 1169/2011 of 25th October 2011, the daily reference intake for adults is 2000mg. However, according to the recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine:
- Children: between 3 grams during childhood up to 4-4.5 grams between 4 and 13 years of age.
- Adults and children over 14:: 4.7 grams
Above all, our body ensures that we have proper levels to support the functioning of the muscle and nervous system.
When the concentration increases, the adrenal glands release aldosterone. Consequently, the kidneys will excrete the potassium excess. On the contrary, when the levels are low, said hormone drops in order to preserve this electrolyte.
The circumstances that interfere with the balance of this mineral can affect the production of electric impulses. To the point that they can cause an abnormal heartbeat.
A diet high in sodium but low in potassium will increase the blood pressure. The most common prescription is prescribing diuretics that can make us lose even more potassium. Therefore, it is necessary to eat sources of this mineral to prevent a maladjustment in our body.
Potassium in the diet
- If you drink a lot of coffee, you may be masking the fatigue without noticing.
- If you want to eat a lot of sweets you may have low levels too.
- You will lose potassium and magnesium when you sweat. To replace them, you will need to eat fruit and vegetables hours before the workout.
- You may retain fluid and lose it if you suffer hypoglycemia
- Those who suffer diabetes or renal diseases should control their intake with medical support
- Tsuchiya T, Kijima A, Ishii Y, Takasu S, Yokoo Y, Nishikawa A, Yanai T, Umemura T. Mechanisms of oxidative stress-induced in vivo mutagenicity by potassium bromate and nitrofurantoin. J Toxicol Pathol. 2018 Jul;31(3):179-188. doi: 10.1293/tox.2018-0024. Epub 2018 Jun 2.
- Mineral Chart
- Foods rich in potassium