Potassium is easily found in various meals, including fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens, beans, nuts, dairy products, and starchy vegetables such as winter squash are all high in potassium. But did you know that potassium plays a vital role in our body?
The fundamental function of potassium in the body is to maintain normal fluid levels within our cells, while sodium keeps fluid levels average outside of cells. Potassium also aids in muscle contraction and supports healthy blood pressure.
How Does Potassium and Sodium Work Together?
Although potassium and sodium are closely related, their effects on the body are opposed. Both are necessary nutrients vital for physiological balance and have been associated with the development of chronic illnesses, particularly cardiovascular disease.
High sodium consumption raises blood pressure, which can contribute to heart disease, whereas high potassium consumption relaxes blood vessels and excretes sodium while lowering blood pressure.
Our bodies require considerably more potassium than salt each day. Still, the typical American diet provides the exact opposite: Americans consume around 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day on average, with about 75% of that coming from processed foods, while only receiving about 2,900 milligrams of potassium. (Source: Harvard University)
Toxicity and Deficiency Symptoms of Potassium
While potassium benefits us, too much or too little of this particular electrolyte can be detrimental to an individual’s health.
The kidneys wash out extra potassium through urine to maintain blood potassium levels. Potassium is also lost through sweat and stools. Because of regular daily losses, at least 400-800 mg of food is required.
Hypokalemia can be caused by an illness that results in excessive fluid loss, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or from the use of some drugs like diuretics. Hypokalemia is particularly common in hospitalized patients taking drugs that cause excessive potassium excretion.
It’s also observed in persons with inflammatory bowel illnesses, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which can induce diarrhea and nutrient malabsorption.
Because potassium is found in so many meals, a potassium deficiency is uncommon; an insufficient intake paired with intense sweating, diuretic use, laxative abuse, or severe nausea and vomiting can swiftly lead to hypokalemia. Another cause is a magnesium deficit, as the kidneys require magnesium to reabsorb potassium and maintain normal cell levels. (Source: Harvard University)
Hyperkalemia is a condition in which the blood contains too much potassium. The kidneys will easily remove excess potassium in healthy people, primarily through urine.
Advanced kidney illness, taking drugs that hold potassium in the body, particularly NSAIDs, or those with damaged kidneys who consume a high-potassium diet (more than 4,700 mg daily) or use potassium-based salt substitutes can all cause hyperkalemia. (Source: Harvard University)
Can Potassium Replace Sodium?
Potassium chloride, which replaces some or all of the sodium chloride in table salt, is sometimes used to make salt substitutes. Although those on low-sodium diets may benefit from potassium salt and lower sodium levels, it has a harsh flavor when heated and is not advised for cooking.
Before taking a potassium salt, it is vital to consult your physician. Too much potassium can be problematic for persons with difficulties excreting it or taking medications that can raise potassium levels in the circulation. (Source: Harvard University)