encyclopedia

Potassium

Natural Sources:
Apricots, avocados, bananas, brewer’s yeast, brown rice, dates, figs, dried fruits, garlic, nuts, potatoes, raisins, winter squash, wheat bran, yams and other foods are good sources of potassium.

Forms:
Standardized potassium capsules, tablets and liquid supplements; multivitamin pills containing potassium.

Therapeutic Uses:
Acne

Aging Disorders

Arthritis

Atherosclerosis

Bone Health

Breathing Disorders

Cell Membrane Health

Cellular Regeneration

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Constipation

Depression

Diabetes

Diarrhea

Dry Skin

Edema

Energy Loss

Fatigue

Growth Impairment

Heart Health Maintenance

Heart Palpitations and Fluctuations

High Blood Pressure

High Cholesterol

Insomnia

Lethargy

Mineral Deficiency (RDI=3,500mg/day)

Muscular Fatigue and Weakness

Nervous System Health

Osteoporosis

Reflex Weakness

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Skin Disorders

Skin Dryness (Abnormally dry skin)

Sodium Retention

Stroke Prevention

Thirst (Insatiable)

Vascular Disorders

Overview:

Potassium is a silvery white alkaline metal. Its chemical symbol (“K”) is derived from the Latin word kalium, which means “alkali”. Its English name is from potash, a compound containing it. Potassium is the seventh most abundant earth element and makes up about 2.4% by weight of the earth’s crust. The presence of potassium ions in the body is essential for the correct functioning of cells. Potassium works together with sodium to regulate the body’s water balance and control the flow of water and nutrients in and out of cells. Potassium also works with sodium in a careful balance to control nerve function, muscle contraction, regular heart beat, stable blood pressure and transmission of electrochemical impulses. Potassium is also involved in various enzyme systems and effects kidney and adrenal function. Potassium is most well known as an electrolyte* involved in the acid-base balance of the blood and osmotic balance between body cells and intercellular fluid. Athletes often drink beverages enriched with electrolytes to replenish the body after profuse sweating. Without enough potassium in the diet, the body retains sodium, triggering high blood pressure. Studies found that men on a potassium-restricted diet had a jump in blood pressure of 4.5%, up from 90.9 to 95 arterial pressure (a measure of both systolic and diastolic). Potassium also helps prevent strokes. One California study analyzing the diets of 859 men and women over age 50 found that nobody with the highest intake of potassium (above 3,500 milligrams daily) died of a stroke. Researchers concluded from the study that with every extra daily 400 milligrams of potassium in food, the odds of a fatal stroke drop by 40 percent. Body storage of potassium is low; therefore, it is required in the diet daily. Mental and physical stress can also deplete the body’s potassium supply.

Chemistry:
Potassium is a silvery white alkaline metal that was discovered and isolated in 1807 by Sir Humphry Davy. Potassium reacts so violently with water that it bursts into flame and burns with a characteristic pale lilac color (the reaction produces a colorless solution of potassium hydroxide (KOH) and hydrogen gas (H2)). Potassium chloride is the primary supplemental product because of its high potassium content (51.5% minimum potassium) and biological availability. Pure potassium metal is very soft and easily cut producing a bright and shiny cut surface that soon tarnishes because of reaction with oxygen and moisture from the air. If potassium is burned in air, the result is mainly formation of orange potassium superoxide.

Suggested Amount:
There is currently no Recommended Daily Allowance for potassium, however, the Recommended Daily Intake is 3,500mg daily and the optimal daily intake for an adult is deemed by experts to be between 3,500mg to 5,600mg. The typical adult intake, however, is only between 800 mg and 1,500 mg. Note: Recommended Daily Intake is not “official” but is often used as a reference on packaging labels in the nutritional panel. Multivitamins may provide just some 5mg per day, an absolutely irrelevant amount. The potassium content of some common foods includes: 100 grams oats – 350 mg; 100 grams chocolate – 385 mg; 100 grams sardines in tomato sauce – 341 mg; 100 grams banana – 396 mg; 100 grams oranges – 181 mg. Herbs that contain potassium include catnip, hops, horsetail, nettle, plantain, red clover, sage and skullcap.

Drug Interactions:
Potassium supplements can interact with a number of prescription medications including digitalis-based heart medications, potassium-sparing diuretics, and blood pressure lowering drugs of the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor type. Consult a physician if requiring potassium supplements in these cases.

Contraindications:
Potassium supplementation is contraindicated in persons using the following medications: digitalis-based heart medications, potassium-sparing diuretics, and blood pressure lowering drugs of the angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor type. Consult a physician if requiring potassium supplements in these cases.

Side Effects:
There are no side effects known for potassium taken in normal dosages. Most people can handle even large excesses of potassium without any problem. However, people with kidney disease can not handle potassium in the normal way and may experience heart disturbances and other consequences of potassium toxicity. Individuals with kidney disorders usually need to restrict their potassium intake and follow the dietary recommendations of their physicians.

References:

Carper, J. 1993. Food Your Miracle Medicine. Published by HarperCollins Books, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, New York 10103. Pp. 99-100.

Carper, J. 1991. The Food Pharmacy Guide to Good Eating – With More Than 200 Totally Healthy Recipes. Bantam Books, 666 5th Avenue, New York, New York 10103. Pp. 18-21; 51; 59; 96; 120; 124; 206; 289; 292-292; 352-53.

Khaw, K. 1987. Dietary Potassium and stroke associated mortality. New England J Medicine 216: 235-240.

Krishna, G.G. 1989. Increased blood pressure during potassium depletion in normotensive men. New England J Medicine 329(18): 1177-1182.

LaCelle, P.L. et al. 1964. An investigation of total body potassium in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Proceedings Ann. Meeting of the Rheumatism Association, Arthritis & Rheumatism 7; 321.

Additional Information:

Potassium Deficiency Symptoms and Causes:

Symptoms of potassium deficiency include: muscle weakness and fatigue, mental confusion, irritability, heart palpitations and other cardiac rhythm disturbances, nervous tremors and problems with muscle contraction and coordination. Potassium deficiency can result after profuse sweating if the diet is not adequately supplied with a replenishing source of electrolytes. Thirst quenchers containing balanced levels of electrolytes have been developed for athletes to avoid this problem. Athletes typically require at least 4 grams of potassium daily to replenish losses from sweating (up to 3 grams daily can be lost from regular exercise). Other causes of significant fluid loss can also cause potassium deficiency including diarrhea and/or overuse of laxatives, diuretics, aspirin and other drugs. Excessive consumption of salty foods together with lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet is the most common cause of potassium deficiency, especially common in elderly people.

*What is an Electrolyte?

Electrolytes are elements from mineral salts, including potassium, sodium and chlorine, that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. Electrolytes are always found in pairs with a positively charged molecule (cation) like potassium or sodium bonded to a negatively charged molecule (anion) like chlorine. For instance, salt in its solid form is sodium chloride but in water the ions split apart and conduct electricity. The body holds most potassium within cells (over 95%) whereas most sodium is outside of cells within the body’s blood and other body fluids. The body actually has a mechanism known as the sodium-potassium pump in order to do this. Cell membranes of all cells of the body actively pump sodium out and potassium in as an important function to prevent cellular swelling (and bursting) and to maintain the proper electrical charge of the cell. This is particularly important in muscle and nerve cells. During muscle contractions and nerve transmissions, the potassium actually exits the cell and sodium enters causing a change in the electrical charge of the cell and this causes the transmission or contraction. Additionally, potassium is required for the conversion of blood sugar into glycogen within the muscles and liver. Without adequate potassium, low levels of storage glycogen causes muscle weakness, fatigue and other symptoms of potassium deficiency.