As I talk about in my blog on Minerals, potassium is NOT made in the body so must be consumed in food or supplements, as is the case with all minerals. As also is the case, our soils are quite mineral depleted because of farming techniques so even when we eat the “best foods”, we risk being mineral depleted.
Potassium is one of the essential macro-minerals in the body and is considered an “electrolyte” which means that when it is in solution, it carries an ionic charge, capable of producing electricity in the body.
What is Potassium?
Potassium is an essential dietary mineral. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body.
Normal body function depends on tight regulation of potassium concentrations both inside and outside of cells.
Roles of Potassium in the Body
Your heart LOVES and craves potassium! Potassium plays a role in every heartbeat. A hundred thousand times a day, it helps trigger your heart to squeeze blood through your body.
Normal body function depends on tight regulation of potassium concentrations both inside and outside of cells
Helps regulate fluids
Helps the blood vessels become larger and therefore blood can get through
More easily, lowering blood pressure. (traffic—if a 4-lane highway has 2 lanes blocked from construction and then they suddenly open up, traffic can flow more freely)
Helps your muscles—including your heart—contract
Helps move nutrients into and waste out of cells
Transmits nerve impulses, acts as a nerve tonic
Regulates water and mineral balance
Maintains normal blood pressure
Sensitizes your mitochondria to thyroid hormone. Low potassium is associated with reduced sensitivity of the mitochondrial receptors to thyroid hormone. Potassium is CRUCIAL in anyone with hypothyroidism (I’ll bet your doctor didn’t tell you that).
Helps eliminate toxins
Has a profound effect on the functioning of the liver.
Attracts oxygen to tissues; lack of it reduces oxygenation
Potassium is needed in quite large amounts in the diet upwards of 4700 mg or more, and it’s quite hard to get enough for one’s daily needs even in a healthy diet.
The questions is, what doesn’t it lead to?
The primary thing I see connected to low potassium is fatigue overall, from a slower metabolism and overall oxidation rate.
Additionally, it’s very common to have a collection of symptoms such as: constipation, heart irregularities, low blood sugar, muscle weakness, water retention, allergies, low blood pressure.
Severe deficiency can lead to paralysis, life threatening cardiac rhythms and death!
Conditions associated with absolute or relative deficiency of potassium include:
acne, skin disorders
Additional signs of possible deficiency include
aches and pains
restlessness, nervousness, anxiety
low energy levels
high or low blood pressure- several studies indicate that groups with relatively high dietary potassium intakes have lower blood pressures than comparable groups with relatively low potassium intakes.
All electrolytes, especially sodium, chloride, and potassium, are lost in vomit, diarrhea, sweat, and urine.
Common causes of fluid loss are foodborne illnesses, gastrointestinal infections, diuretics, diabetes, sauna use, and intense physical activity.
People in adrenal burnout, with chronic fatigue or carry a high toxin burden, will have a hard time holding on to electrolyte minerals. Stress of any kind uses up minerals because more energy is required to deal with the stress.
Low magnesium levels can cause low potassium.
Co-factors of Potassium
As with other minerals, potassium acts as a co-factor (other elements that need to be present for potassium to do its job) to enzyme reactions to make biochemical reactions occur.
Sodium-sodium/potassium pump in the cell walls
Magnesium to help calcium and potassium ions travel across cell membranes, allowing the potassium to do its job in cell function and maintenance.
Vitamin B complex
Potassium is one of several electrolyte minerals…the major electrolytes are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, and bicarbonate. Sodium, potassium, and chloride are the three essential minerals whose primary purpose is to serve as electrolytes. This is another reason it’s important not to take potassium supplement alone in any large amount.
Primary Health Benefits of Good Potassium Level
Helps improve thyroid hormone functioning
May help normalize blood pressure
May decrease risk for cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases
Food Sources of Potassium
Remember, it’s the soil content of potassium that ultimately makes a food rich in it!
The RDA is just too low to help rebuild appropriate tissue stores for most people. Since our soils have been depleted for a long time, we must work a lot harder to get our minerals from our food.
So many foods are rich in potassium, mostly veggies. Beet greens are one of the highest, with over 1300 mg per cup of cooked greens. Eating a diet loaded with real foods and a variety of vegetables will go a long way to getting more potassium into your body to benefit from. Yet another reason to eat your greens and your veggies. Bananas are not the only source like most people seem to think.
Potassium Rich Foods:
Beans (black eyed peas, lima beans, white beans)
Dark leafy greens (beet greens, swiss chard, spinach_
Winter squashes (such as acorn, butternut)
Potatoes (preferably with the skin)
Carrots (carrot juice is particularly high, so is celery juice)
Some potassium will leach out of veggies when they are cooked. It's best to cook them in liquid that you will also consume and not discard. I like to cook my veggies in soups and stews if I'm cooking them in liquid, since I'll also consume the broth. If you’re cooking them alone, I like to drain the liquid, add some salt and drink it.
It is possible to consume a lower carb diet and still get enough potassium, but it will require a concerted effort and attention to do so.
High-fat ketogenic diets are not recommended for folks with potassium deficiency unless it is being used a therapeutic diet for a specific medical condition. Testing electrolytes in these cases will be important. “Keto flu” is caused by loss of minerals, especially sodium, potassium and magnesium.
In general, we need 4700 mg of potassium and about 1500 mg of sodium per day, which is less than 1 tsp of good quality salt. Of course, when the body has a hard time retaining these electrolytes more may be warranted.
Supplementing with Potassium
It's always a good idea to TEST first. It's not enough to just supplement with potassium alone and assume you can just replace it. It takes knowing the other minerals and co-factors in your body as well as helping your body detox heavy metals over time.
The RDA is too low to rebuild potassium stores. Most multivitamins do not have enough potassium to really make much difference – a maximum of 99 mg. (The FDA limits potassium supplements to less than 100 milligrams per serving to avoid the small risk of hyperkalemia.)
Please work with a nutritional expert or holistic practitioner like me to know how to supplement best for your specific and current health needs. Testing with an HTMA helps collaborate all the minerals, heavy metals, excess copper and what cofactors vitamins to even consider.
If you don’t know all the moving parts and puzzle pieces you could do more harm than good.
I only recommend a supplement after I’ve done a case history, reviewed medications and seen a client’s hair test to determine how much would be necessary for them. Adding a small amount in a supplement for most people is fine, but it’s not going to address the bigger picture.
Should be taken in smaller doses several times/day with food
Electrolytes (drops or tablets) -will provide a balance of minerals. Make sure the electrolytes you choose include all of the major electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, bicarbonate)
Cream of Tartar – put in smoothie 1 tsp = 400 mg. Start with ½ tsp twice daily. I tried it in water but it wasn’t easy.
It’s best to keep it simple with whole foods until you know more about your own mineral picture through an HTMA.
CAUTION: Potassium supplements should not be used by anyone with diabetes, insulin resistance, impaired kidney function, or who is using ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), unless prescribed by a physician.
Always check with your medical doctor first if you have any health conditions/diseases they are treating, especially if you are on any medications, in particular that you are not taking drugs that contraindicate the use of potassium supplements.
Testing for Potassium Levels Test, don’t guess!
It's a good idea to TEST first before starting any additional supplementation or adding any single mineral. However, this is one mineral I can safely say we all need and are not getting enough of and dietary consumption is the safest way to add it in without testing first (minus those indicated above). If you have not yet tested you may want to plan on it in the very near future.
A basic metabolic panel (BMP) to test electrolytes – a routine in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Electrolytes being in the normal range do not rule out nutritional imbalances. Rather, assessing dietary intake, blood pressure, and edema should be considered the primary nutritional markers. Potassium and sodium need to be in a good balance in the diet. A consistent low or high blood pressure reading suggest the need for dietary strategies to adjust the sodium-to-potassium ratio.
Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis - In order to know for sure, an HTMA gives much more insight. It will tell you your entire current mineral picture and it a good idea to know to improve and restore health. This will include far more information than just potassium alone as well as how to see one’s entire current mineral system imbalances so you can effectively determine what is needed beyond just potassium to correct the patterns shown.
Potassium holds a lot of power over conquering numerous health complaints and is very easy and affordable to obtain.
Just using getting potassium in place can go a long way to bring about big shifts in one’s health.
If you can really get a full spectrum approach for potassium along with testing it will provide much longer more sustainable results.