Potassium is an essential mineral that can be found within every body tissue. It plays a vital role in maintaining regular cell function by maintaining how much fluid is within the cells. Potassium also plays an essential role in maintaining optimal nerve function, kidney function, as well as muscle contractions.
Digestion, Metabolism and Absorption
When you consume potassium, it will travel down the small intestine where it is absorbed. 90% of the potassium consumed will be absorbed to maintain the amount of potassium present inside and outside your body cells. The majority of potassium is removed from the body via the urine; small quantities will be removed via the stool. Suppose you consume foods or supplements high in potassium, and there is already enough potassium in your body to maintain optimal health. In that case, any additional potassium is removed from the body very quickly.
Potassium is an essential part of all living cells and is abundantly found in natural foods. The richest dietary sources of potassium are unprocessed foods: fruits such as oranges and bananas, vegetables such as potatoes and leafy green vegetables, fish, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and milk products. Those who eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables daily usually have an ideal potassium intake. Plant sources of potassium are highly water soluble; therefore, much of the potassium is lost when fruits and vegetables are boiled or blanched (unless the water is retained).
Deficiency and Excess Intake
If a potassium deficiency, called hypokalemia, does develop it is very rarely due to a diet low in potassium. Hypokalemia is often caused by a severe loss of potassium that may occur due to:
- Use of diuretics
- Laxative abuse
- Excessive sweating
- Eating clay – a form of pica (a disorder where someone eats non-food substances)
The side effects of hypokalemia are dependent on how far the deficiency has progressed. Mild hypokalemia is characterized by some general side effects such as exhaustion, constipation, muscle weakness and a general feeling of being unwell. However, as hypokalemia progresses, the side effects become much more severe, resulting in:
- Brain-related complications in individuals with kidney disease
- Complications with breathing
- Heart attacks
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar levels
- Frequent urination
- Kidney stones
- Loss of calcium through the urine, which may result in a calcium deficiency.
- Muscle paralysis
On the other end of the spectrum is hyperkalemia, which is characterized by too much potassium in the body. Suppose you are a healthy individual who does not struggle with any kidney-related conditions. In that case, the risk of developing hyperkalemia from eating too many foods high in potassium is scarce as your body will remove any excess potassium from the body via the urine. One of the significant problems with hyperkalemia is that it often does not result in any symptoms however in severe cases it may result in; muscle weakness, muscle paralysis, irregular heartbeat, a burning or tickling sensation in the hands or feet and heart attacks. The risk of hyperkalemia should be of particular concern to individuals with:
- Chronic Kidney Disease
- Using angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Using of potassium-sparing diuretics
- Type-I Diabetes
- Heart Failure
- Liver Disease
- Adrenal insufficiency
If you find that you fall into this category, then you must consult with a dietitian regarding a low potassium diet. To find out if you have a higher potassium requirement based on your genes, make the better choice and choose EatwellgxTM+.