What Does Potassium Do?

Potassium is a mineral which plays a major role in helping several body systems to function properly. The question, however, is: what does potassium do? Potassium, also known as one of the electrolytes of the body, works alongside another electrolyte, sodium, to regulate levels of fluids in the body.

What Does Potassium Do?

There are several health benefits of including potassium in your diet.

  • Firstly, it plays a major role in maintaining the salt and water balance in the body and in maintaining optimal osmotic pressure within the body cells.
  • Further, potassium is crucial in establishing the appropriate pH of blood, which is a measure of acidity. If sufficient amounts of potassium are included in one's diet, one is less likely to suffer from kidney stones.
  • Potassium also helps the muscles of the heart to contract and is essential for the correct functioning of heart muscles. Other than helping heart muscles to contract, potassium assists in the contraction of other muscles of the body as well leading to efficient working of the musculoskeletal system.
  • Potassium can also help prevent the occurrence of strokes in the human brain. This mineral also helps in the prevention of hypertension by regulating the body's blood pressure.
  • Further, high potassium intake is also linked with a reduced incidence of osteoporosis in women.
  • By helping deliver oxygen to the brain, potassium also plays a significant role in the cognitive functioning of an individual. It helps release energy from proteins, carbohydrates and fats during metabolism and aids in the removal of waste products from the body.
  • Lastly, potassium plays a key role in regulating the nervous system of the body; it helps nervous tissues function properly thereby allowing them to transmit nerve impulses.

What Happens If You Don't Get Enough Potassium?

In cases of severe potassium deficiency, the body suffers from a medical condition called hypokalemia. This can occur concurrently with other illnesses or due to increased intake of water pills as treatment for high blood pressure. Usually, women are at greater risk of developing hypokalemia and they display a variety of symptoms. These include extreme exhaustion, muscle cramps, muscular spasms, abnormal heartbeat, palpitations and in some cases depression and paralysis of the body.

How Potassium Deficiency May Happen

Since there are many dietary sources of potassium, it is very unlikely to suffer from a deficiency of this mineral. At the same time, however, it must be noted that one loses potassium from the body on a daily basis through sweat and urination. This loss is further exacerbated if one carries out strenuous exercise, regularly visits steam rooms or resides in a region of hot climate. Since one loses potassium from the body through so many ways, it is important to replenish this loss as well. A failure to do so can have a detrimental impact on a person's bone mineral density and also lead to salt sensitivity and even hypertension. In order to prevent all these, it is imperative to maintain adequate potassium levels in the body.

Other medications such as laxatives, diuretics and steroids can also accelerate the process of potassium loss from the body. If you are taking any of these medicinal drugs, it is imperative to regularly get your blood tested in order to monitor potassium levels of the body. Failure to do so can cause a variety of health problems as highlighted above.

Incorporate Potassium in Your Diet

There are plenty of ways to incorporate potassium in your diet and its recommended daily intake is approximately 3.8 grams. If an individual's diet consists of adequate fruits and vegetables, chances are he is getting ample amounts of this mineral through dietary sources.

  • ŸVegetables such as broccoli, carrots, celery, tomatoes, potatoes and spinach contain high amounts of potassium.
  • ŸFruits including bananas, citrus fruits, apricots, avocados, dates, nectarines and melons are all excellent sources of potassium.
  • ŸOther foods packed with potassium include legumes such as Lima and kidney beans as well as sweet potatoes. Moreover, fish, some meats and even milk contain reasonable amounts of potassium.

Do I Have to Take Potassium Supplements?

Sometimes, people also resort to potassium supplements to increase amount of potassium in their bodies. This, however, is not always recommended as these supplements usually have several side-effects that can cause considerable harm to the body. Some side-effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, muscle weakness, abnormal heartbeat and loss of consciousness. Thus, whenever you’re taking such supplements, it is essential to first consult a doctor. Moreover, people suffering from high blood pressure or with kidney disorders should generally refrain from taking potassium supplements otherwise they risk aggravating their health.

Can I Get Too Much Potassium?

When you get your answer to "what does potassium do?" don't assume that the amount of potassium in your body is the more the better. It is always possible to consume too much potassium which can have an adverse impact on your health.

Hyperkalemia

The normal level of potassium in the blood ranges between 3.5 and 5 milliequivalents per liter of blood. If, however, this figure increases beyond 5 milliequivalents per liter of blood, the person suffers from a medical condition called hyperkalemia; a disease characterized by irregular heartbeats. In extremely severe cases where potassium levels are higher than 8.8 milliequivalents, the person becomes more prone to a respiratory paralysis or cardiac arrest which, in turn, can prove to be fatal.

However, excessive intake of potassium is not the only factor responsible for this condition. Renal disease, certain medications, congenital adrenal hyperplasia and Gordon's syndrome are all contributing factors towards hyperkalemia.

Symptoms of Hyperkalemia

The most common complaint of a person suffering from hyperkalemia is extreme fatigue and tiredness. Other symptoms include chest pain, nausea, vomiting, dyspnea, palpitations and muscle paralysis. The two most common ways of treating a patient are increasing potassium excretion through diuretics and correcting the source of excessive potassium which could either be due to an increased intake of this mineral or due to reduced excretion from the body.

When to Worry

It is quite important for individuals to monitor the potassium levels in their body as too much potassium or too little potassium can both have a negative impact on one's health. Frequent muscle cramping or excessive thirst may be indications that the potassium level in the body is either too high or too low. You should immediately get your blood tested in order to check whether potassium levels are within the desirable range or not. Failure to do so can lead to numerous health ailments in the future, some of which can be quite devastating for your health.

 
 
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