Spotlight on Potassium - An Essential Dietary Mineral and Electrolyte

Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte that is essential to proper muscle and nerve function, plays a key role in healthy heart function and in the maintenance of a proper pH balance in the body.   Numerous clinical studies indicate that potassium may play an important role in the prevention and/or treatment of the following diseases and medical conditions: 
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
  • Stroke
  • Heart Disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney Stones
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Cataracts
  • Hepatitis
  • Dehydration
Hypokalemia (Potassium Deficiency)
Hypokalemia is a metabolic disorder which occurs when the level of potassium in the blood drops too low.  A big drop in the potassium level can lead to paralysis, kidney damage and irregular or abnormal heart rhythms which can be life threatening or even fatal.  Symptoms of low potassium levels may include some or all of the following:
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Fatique
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Constipation
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
Causes of low potassium levels may include some or all of the following:
  • Intense Exercise
  • Alcoholism
  • Chronic or severe diarrhea
  • Chronic or severe vomiting
  • Use of certain diuretics
  • Overuse or abuse of certain laxatives
  • Certain other medications
  • A diet high in sodium (salt)
Hyperkalemia (Potassium Toxicity)
Hyperkalemia occurs when the level of potassium in the blood is abnormally elevated due to an increase in the amount of potassium in the body or the excess release of potassium from the cells into the bloodstream and can be life threatening. Although Hyperkalemia often has no symptoms and is most common in individuals with renal failure, sometimes the following symptoms are present:
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Tingling of the hands and feet
  • Muscular weakness
  • Nausea
  • Slow, weak or absent pulse
  • Temporary paralysis
Causes of Hyperkalemia may include:
  • The kidneys' inability to remove excess potassium due to an acute or chornic kidney disorder
  • A lack of the hormone, aldosterone
  • Disorders that cause blood cells to burst
  • Tumors
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Burns
  • Surgery or other traumatic tissue injury
  • Rhabdomyolysis (a breakdown and release into the bloodstream of muscle fibers resulting from alcoholism, severe exertion, heatstroke, trauma, certain infections and certain drugs)
  • Certain drugs and medications
Adequate Intake

The adequate intake (AI) of potassium was established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine in 2004 as follows:
  • Breast-feeding females:  5,100 mg per day
  • Adults and adolescents age 14 years and older: 4,700 mg per day
  • Children aged 9-13 years:  4,500 mg per day
  • Children aged 4-8 years: 3,800 mg per day
  • Children aged 1-3 years: 3,000 mg per day
  • Infants aged 7-12 months: 700 mg per day
  • Infants aged 0-6 months: 400 mg per day
Food Sources of Potassium

Potassium is found in a variety of foods including dairy products, red meat, chicken, fish and soy products.  The richest and healthiest source of potassium, however, is found in the following fruits and vegetables:


10 Daily Nutrients (Infographic)

Disclaimer: Nothing in this Article is intended or should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content herein is for informational purposes only. You should consult with and seek the advise of a physician or qualified health professional before taking any supplements, herbs or over-the-counter medicine; modifying, restricting or altering your food, beverage or supplement intake; starting an exercise or diet program; or making any dietary, nutritional, exercise or lifestyle changes in order to determine it is right and advisable for your individual needs. 

Linus Pauling Institute
Medicine Plus, a Service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine

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