What is potassium?
Potassium is a key mineral for the human body because it counteracts sodium in many physiological processes. High doses of dietary potassium are an effective approach for reducing hypertension and related chronic heart diseases caused by high sodium intake. Although potassium is relatively abundant in food sources, it is generally under-consumed by most people when considering their high level of sodium intake.
How do potassium and sodium interact with each other?
The absorption of potassium and sodium is controlled by the same molecule called the Na+/K+ channel that transports potassium and sodium in opposite directions. High sodium intake leads to loss of potassium through urine and, conversely, high potassium intake leads to sodium excretion through urine.
How is potassium used in the human body?
Potassium is one of the major electrolytes (together with sodium, chloride and magnesium) that conducts electricity in the human body. It also plays important roles in muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission, and in maintaining the balance of fluids in the body.
What is the body’s normal potassium level?
Normal potassium levels in the human body range between 3.5-5.0 mEq/L (136.5-195 μg/ml). Anything lower than 3.5 mEq/L is called hypokalemia, which can cause a lack of energy, muscle cramps, stomach disturbances, and irregular heartbeat. Anything over 5 mEq/L can lead to hyperkalemia, a common condition diagnosed in up to 8% of hospitalized patients in the United States that can lead to cardiac arrest and death in severe cases.
Neither hypokalemia nor hyperkalemia have dietary causes. They are often the result of other underlying diseases (such as kidney failure) or reactions to certain medications (such as ACE inhibitors).
How much potassium do I need in my diet?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an intake of 4,700 mg of potassium (approximately 6 to 7 small potatoes worth) for the average adult. Currently, most Americans do not consume an adequate amount of potassium. In fact, the typical American consumes only 56% this amount. Therefore, most of us need to increase our intake of dietary potassium. For individuals with kidney disease and those who take certain medications, we advise you to seek specific guidance from a health care provider regarding your potassium intake.
Is it possible to consume too much potassium from the diet?
Diet alone cannot lead to overconsumption of potassium. If you are diagnosed with hyperkalemia, it could be the result of another disease, a medication, or simply too much supplemented potassium. Seek advice from your health care provider regarding hyperkalemia.
Should I take potassium supplements?
You should not take potassium supplements unless you are advised to by your doctor. Potassium supplements may not be safe for people with certain diseases and overdoses can cause confusion, tingling sensations in the limbs, low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, weakness, and comas.
How do I get sufficient dietary intake of potassium?
We recommend using the GB HealthWatch Diet and Nutrition Evaluator to get the most accurate estimate of your current potassium intake.
The following guidelines can help ensure you are getting adequate potassium in your diet:
1. Eat potassium-rich foods to increase your potassium intake, such as those shown in Top Foods. Many canned foods (such as tomato paste) also contain high levels of potassium.
2. Read Nutrition Facts labels while grocery shopping to choose foods with high potassium content (250 mg or more per serving) and to avoid those with low potassium (150 mg or less per serving).
3. Due to the counteractions between potassium and sodium, limiting dietary sodium also helps your body retain potassium.
4. Coffee and alcohol deplete potassium in your body. Avoiding excess consumption of these two beverages will also help support optimal potassium levels.