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Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte that is required by your body for functioning normally. Potassium is required for every bodily function but has a very particular role in nerve transmission and muscle contraction. This makes it quite an important mineral for optimal heart and kidney function.

But, does this excellent mineral has any benefits to your health other than aiding in these functions? Quite inadvertently, it does, the most important being its alleviating actions on high blood pressure.

This article will explore all the evidence-based health benefits of potassium. But first, let’s know about the recommended dosage of this mineral and acknowledge its dietary sources.

  1. Potassium recommended daily allowance
  2. Dietary sources of potassium
  3. Potassium benefits
  4. Potassium side effects

Like any other mineral, the daily requirements of potassium depend on your age, weight, gender and physical traits along with your level of physical activity. Since those with high levels of physical activity generally require more daily potassium, it is recommended to consult with your doctor for the right dosage customised for you. Here is an NIH guidance table which will provide you with an idea of the ideal dosage values:

Age Men Women Pregnant women Lactating women
Up to 6 months 400 mg 400 mg    
7 months to 1 year 700 mg 700 mg    
1 to 3 years 3000 mg 3000 mg    
4 to 8 years 3800 mg 3800 mg    
8 years to teenage 4500 mg 4500 mg    
14 years to 18 years 4700 mg 4700 mg    
Adult dosage up to 50 years 4700 mg 4700 mg 4700 mg 5100 mg
Dosage above 50 years of age 4700 mg 4700 mg    

The dosage of potassium depends on the levels of physical activity, individual lifestyle and even varies according to climatic and weather conditions. It is also dependent on the usage of certain medications like diuretics, which cause excessive excretion of sodium through the urine. So, in hot climatic conditions and individuals with high levels of physical activity or in patients taking diuretics, a higher potassium dosage may be required. It is important that you visit your doctor to determine it. Other than this, the dosage will also depend on the consumption of sodium since both are relative.

Now you have a rough idea of how much potassium you need in your diet but how do you ensure getting that? Since supplements are bound to have some side effects, it is best that you increase the consumption of potassium through dietary sources. Following are foods, fruits and vegetables that are naturally rich in potassium:

  • Leafy greens like spinach, broccoli and kale
  • Vine fruits like grapes, tomato and berries
  • Vine vegetables including zucchini, pumpkin and eggplant (brinjal)
  • Roots such as carrots, potato and sweet potato
  • Citrus fruits like orange and grapefruit
  • Legumes like beans and peas
  • Animal products like milk, yoghurt, eggs, chicken and meat
  • Tree fruits like apple, banana and avocado
  • Salad foods like cucumber
  • Seafood
  • Packaged foods like wholewheat bread, nut butter, canned soups and sauces

Most individuals get the required dosage of potassium through processed foods and other sources. It is not imperative that this has been listed on the packet contents. However, it is most likely that your potassium requirement will be fulfiled by a combination of these sources and would not require additional supplements.

Supplements are only indicated in individuals currently on diuretic medications and may be required in certain other cases when prescribed by a doctor. Sometimes, pregnant and lactating mothers may also need supplements. It is important that you avoid taking any supplements, unless so prescribed, to avoid unwanted side effects. For infants, it is essential that the only source of potassium be through breast milk.

Potassium is an important mineral needed to maintain blood volume. It helps to protect you from the harmful effects of a high sodium diet, which leads to water retention and high blood pressure. So, sodium has a protective role in your body, particularly in relation to the health of your heart. This section will explore this benefit along with many others of this mineral.

  1. Potassium for blood pressure reduction
  2. Potassium for heart health
  3. Potassium for weight loss
  4. Potassium for muscles
  5. Potassium for bone health
  6. Potassium prevents osteoporosis
  7. Potassium helps avoid kidney stones
  8. Potassium maintains the pH of the body

Potassium for blood pressure reduction

The dangers of a high sodium diet are not unknown. By causing your body to retain more and more water, a diet rich in sodium leads to bloating and in the long term, it causes an elevation in your blood pressure.

It has been ascertained that a diet rich in sodium while also low in potassium is worse for your blood pressure and heart health causing blood pressure to rise even more rapidly. To avoid this, it is recommended to generously include potassium sources in your diet, which will help with your blood pressure concerns.

Scientists have found that increasing potassium intake reduces blood pressure even in hypertensives. So, not only does dietary potassium aid in the prevention of high pressure but also possesses therapeutic value. Getting your dose already?

Potassium for heart health

As you may know, high blood pressure increases the risk of several cardiovascular disorders and stroke, which has detrimental effects on your health. By having a blood pressure lowering effect, dietary potassium has the potential to reduce the risk of these disorders.

When combined with a low sodium diet, not only is your risk of cardiovascular disorders reduced but also there is a lesser chance of mortality from these disorders if already endured. Further, potassium controls the electrical activity of the heart and thus has an overall cardioprotective effect.

(Read more: Heart disease prevention)

Potassium for weight loss

Potassium is an important component of your diet and has a role in the removal of excess water from your body. Excess water causes bloating, which serves as a possible mechanism for weight gain. By excreting all that extra water, potassium aids in weight loss.

Further, potassium helps to build muscles, which causes an increase in the muscle mass of your body thereby reducing excess fat. This further ensures that the weight loss process is healthy.

(Read more: Diet chart for weight loss)

Potassium for muscles

Potassium is a major component of intracellular fluids and has a crucial role in maintaining muscular functions in the body. As discussed above, it increases the availability of proteins and helps to build muscle tissue. Potassium is an important component of lean body tissues. Sodium-potassium pump helps to maintain the potassium levels inside body cells and a proper balance between sodium and potassium is essential for your muscles to work properly.

In states of low potassium, also called hypokalemia, muscle weakness is most commonly noted. This condition has other symptoms like an irregular heartbeat, mental confusion and changes in blood pressure. To ensure its avoidance, it is important that you keep a check of your potassium consumption while not going overboard, since that can have side effects as well. These will be discussed in the subsequent sections.

Potassium for bone health

Your bones need potassium like all other body cells. Potassium helps to increase bone mineral density, which, in turn, improves the strength of bones. This means that the inclusion of potassium in your diet makes your bone stronger and helps to reduce the risk of fractures and other bone-related problems.

Studies have found that those who have a high intake of potassium from fruits and vegetables have stronger bones than those who do not. So, it is advisable to keep a check on your potassium intake.

Potassium prevents osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease marked by bone loss and degradation. It is more commonly seen in postmenopausal women due to hormonal influences. Reduction in bone mass due to osteoporosis causes the bones to become weak and brittle, which often causes bone pain. Hunch back and an increased risk of fractures are some of the other symptoms of this condition. Bone strength is determined by bone mass density, bone size and material. When a person falls and the force exceeds the bone strength, the bone gets fractured.

Consumption of an acidogenic diet causes an increased rate of bone turnover, which may cause accelerated bone resorption. Since a potassium-rich diet favours an increase in the bone mass density, it also helps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and aids in avoiding any complications due to it.

So, it is recommended to take care of your potassium intake, especially with an advancing age. This will help to prevent osteoporosis and will further ensure the optimisation of other body functions.

Potassium helps avoid kidney stones

Kidney stones are a common problem caused due to the formation of calcium oxalate stones in the kidneys, which are immensely painful to pass. Diet has a major role in the formation and excretion of these stones, with some dietary components increasing its risk and size and others preventing the formation of these stones.

Studies have found that the inclusion of potassium in your diet helps in reducing your risk of kidney stones. So, if you have had a previous episode of stones, it is recommended to include more potassium in your diet in a dosage specified by your doctor.

Since potassium favours bone health, it ensures that the calcium ions stay within the bones and not escape out into the body fluids. A deficiency of potassium causes calcium to be withered off from the bones and excreted from the body along with urine. Sometimes, this excess calcium, instead of being excreted from the body, coalesces to form calcium oxalate deposits, which are basically the painful kidney stones.

So, it is recommended to increase the intake of potassium-rich foods along with improving your water intake to avoid stones.

Potassium maintains the pH of the body

In addition to being a mineral, potassium is also an important electrolyte, which helps to maintain the acid-base balance of the body. It has been ascertained that low potassium and high protein diets induce a state of metabolic acidosis, which causes the demineralisation of bones. This also leads to osteoporosis and the development of kidney stones due to excess calcium ions in the body.

Severe metabolic acidosis is an emergency state and can lead to shock and even death. Acidosis can also take the form of a chronic condition in its milder form. Either way, it is detrimental to your health and can be detected with the help of urinary pH.

It requires you to see a doctor immediately if you experience symptoms like rapid breathing or mental confusion.

While potassium has several health benefits and performs certain important functions in your body, it is important that you do not consume it in excess to avoid side effects. Following are the side effects of excessive potassium consumption:

  • The use of potassium substitutes can cause gastrointestinal disturbances like diarrhoea and vomiting.
  • Potassium salts can cause small bowel lesions leading to haemorrhage, obstruction and perforation.
  • High potassium level in the body causes hyperkalemia, which causes muscle weakness, heart palpitations and paraesthesia (burning or tingling sensation in the extremities). In severe cases, it can cause arrhythmia, paralysis and can even be life-threatening.
  • Some researchers have found that high serum potassium levels may lead to mild cognitive impairment, which can further increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  • It also has the potential to interact with certain medications like ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers.
  • They also interact with diuretics with potassium-sparing diuretics causing severely high levels of potassium and loop and thiazide diuretics causing the opposite. Since both are severely harmful conditions, it is important that you consult your doctor about these interactions and the subsequent intake of potassium needed by your body.
  • In some cases, high potassium levels can cause infection.
  • Severe hyperkalemia can also cause impaired kidney function.
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References

  1. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Potassium.
  2. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Potassium
  3. Healthdirect Australia. Potassium. Australian government: Department of Health
  4. Queensland Health. Controlling potassium . Queensland Government
  5. Stone MS, Martyn L, Weaver CM.Potassium Intake, Bioavailability, Hypertension, and Glucose Control. 2016 Jul 22;8(7):444. PMID: 27455317
  6. Centre for Health Informatics. [Internet]. National Institute of Health and Family Welfare The Role of Potassium and Sodium in Your Diet
  7. National health and medical research council. Potassium. Ministry of Health; Australian Government
  8. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Metabolic acidosis
  9. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Potassium.
  10. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Potassium in diet