What is Potassium?

Health & Wellness
Last Updated Jul 28, 2020
Health & Wellness

Potassium is a mineral that is necessary for keeping the body’s pH in balance and is also essential for maintaining the body’s normal fluid balance.  Read on to learn more about these roles and the other roles that potassium plays in the body.

What is Potassium?

Potassium acts as an electrolyte, taking on a positive or negative charge that helps to regulate blood pressure, muscle contraction, and keep the bodily processes operating as they should.  In order for the body’s systems to work together correctly, the electrolytes in the body need to be kept in a careful balance.  The other role that potassium plays in the body is to help in the metabolism of sugar to glycogen in order to provide energy for daily operations.  Glycogen can be stored by the muscles and liver and released when it is needed.  Therefore, potassium also helps the body to store energy for later use without converting it to fat.

Dietary Sources of Potassium

To ensure that you are getting enough potassium in your diet, you should eat foods that are rich in it.  These foods include:

  • apricots
  • raisins
  • sultanas
  • figs
  • mixed dried fruits
  • orange juice
  • lima beans
  • rockmelon
  • nuts
  • wheat germ
  • soy flour
  • bran
  • milk
  • fish
  • dry beans
  • baked potatoes with the skin on
  • potato chips
  • tomato puree
  • bananas
  • sardines
  • whole wheat pasta and bread

Benefits of Potassium

The benefits of potassium include:

  • necessary for growth, building muscles, transmission of nerve impulses, heart activity and so forth
  • sends oxygen to the brain to facilitate mental clarity
  • helps to lower blood pressure
  • decreases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
  • helps to dispose of bodily wastes
  • aids in treating allergies
  • reduces arthritis pain
  • conducts nerve impulses and initiates muscle contractions
  • regulates heartbeat

Potassium Deficiency or Imbalance

While a serious deficiency is potassium is rare, it can occur if you lose large volumes of fluid through diarrhea, vomiting, or sweating.  It is most common amongst people that take diuretics, or among those that have a rare endocrine disorder such as Liddle’s syndrome.  Symptoms of potassium deficiency include muscle weakness and twitching, paralysis, and abnormal heart rhythms.

A short term imbalance of potassium is more common and can occur in short term illnesses that include diarrhea and vomiting.  Most of the time, the body is able to correct the imbalance without the need for supplements.  Even more common is a low potassium level in relation to sodium levels – this is an electrolyte imbalance.  In order to get the full benefits of potassium, you should get about five times the amount of potassium than you do sodium.  Most western diets get twice as much sodium as potassium.  For this reason, supplements may be recommended.

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Originally published on Jan 11, 2009

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