Potassium is an essential micro-mineral in the body.
Potassium is an essential micro-mineral in the body. The potassium ions present in blood control nerve function and heart rate. 98 percent of the potassium in the body is found inside the cells.
Appropriate potassium intake (100 milligrams per day) is required for healthy functioning of the body systems. Potassium rich diet decreases the risk of stroke, lowers blood pressure, reduces risk of kidney stones. Potassium is usually found in many fruits like bananas, grapes, papayas, avocadoes, whole, unprocessed foods, such as fresh leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes and beans.
Potassium plays an important role in the following body functions
- Maintenance of salt and water balance in the body: The body is made 60% water. 40% of the water is present inside cells – intracellular fluid (ICF). The rest of the water is present outside the cells in extracellular space and between cells. This fluid is also called extracellular fluid (ECF). The balance between the fluid inside and outside the cells is necessary to maintain the cell shape. This is regulated by potassium and sodium. Potassium is the main electrolyte in the cells, sodium is the main electrolyte in the extra-cellular space. Imbalance in the electrolyte levels causes the cells to shrink or swell and burst. This can result in organ damage.
- Maintenance of the nervous system and muscles: The nervous system relays messages between your brain and body via the nerves. The function of nerves and muscles is dependent on potassium and calcium ions. In case of potassium deficiency, the nerves supplying the limbs may not function, causing paralysis like symptoms.
- Regulation of muscle contractions including the heart: The nervous system to controls the muscle contractions. Nerve signals are generated when the sodium enter the cells while the potassium exit the cells. Both low and high potassium levels can affect nerve signals creating irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can be life threatening. The muscles of the gut are also affected when potassium levels are low, causing ballooning of the intestines.
Health benefits of potassium
Consuming a potassium-rich diet is linked to many impressive health benefits.
- Reduction of blood pressure: By eliminating excess sodium (excess sodium increases blood pressure)
- Reduced the risk of stroke
- Prevention of Osteoporosis: osteoporosis is a condition where the bone is porous and easily fractures due to low calcium levels. Potassium reduces the elimination of excess calcium in the body.
- Prevention of Kidney Stones: potassium helps of lower calcium levels in the urine.
- Reduction of fluid Retention: Potassium can reduce fluid retention in the body by increasing urine production.
What are the signs and symptoms of hypokalemia?
Chronic low potassium can produce the following signs and symptoms
- Muscle cramps
- Breathing difficulties
- Mood changes
- Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm). This requires immediate medical attention.
What are the signs and symptoms of Hyperkalemia?
High levels of potassium can produce the following signs and symptoms: