Are Your Cells Missing This Vital Mineral?
When most people think of potassium, their mind immediately goes to bananas. And if you are a millennial, you can't help but belt it out Gwen Stefani style: B.A.N.A.N.A.S (no judgement)!
Potassium is way more than bananas. The potassium benefits we reap from our diet and wellness routine are crucial to the body’s daily processes. Potassium benefits our bodies from a cellular level, so we owe it to ourselves to ensure we’re maintaining an adequate amount at all times.
What is Potassium?
Cells are the smallest unit of life that makes up all living organisms and the body's tissues. Potassium is an essential mineral responsible for maintaining normal fluid levels inside our cells, helping muscles contract, and supporting normal blood pressure.
In research studies and data sets, potassium levels recommendations are often paired with sodium requirements. While potassium is responsible for fluid levels inside the cells, sodium maintains fluid levels outside the cells. Both potassium and sodium are essential nutrients that play opposing yet complementary roles in our bodies.
What is an Electrolyte?
Electrolyte is a term used for particles within the body that carry either a positive or negative electric charge. Nutritionally speaking, electrolytes are essential minerals found in your blood, sweat, and urine.
When essential nutrients, like potassium, dissolve in bodily fluids like blood, sweat, or urine, they form electrolytes that are then used in the metabolic process. Potassium is both a nutrient and an electrolyte.
7 Electrolytes in Your Body:
An ion is made from the chemicals within an electrolyte. A positively-charged ion is called a cation. In contrast, an ion with a negative charge is called an anion.
The principal cation in the intracellular fluid is potassium. The principal cation located in the extracellular fluid is sodium. Potassium and sodium work together to create and maintain the steady workings of the body’s internal, physical, and chemical conditions.
Potassium Benefits and Potassium Deficiency
Potassium benefits our bodies when we are staying in shape through exercising. However, a potassium deficiency could negatively impact your exercise routine as well as daily life processes.
Potassium is necessary for the body, and maintaining recommended potassium levels is incredibly important. Both a potassium deficiency and overly high potassium levels can negatively impact your health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 3,510 mg of potassium daily. Therefore, intaking a lower amount of potassium on a regular basis could lead to a potassium deficiency.
What Are Signs of Potassium Deficiency (Hypokalemia)?
- Muscle weakness, cramping, or twitching
- High Blood Pressure
Health Canada is concerned that Canadian adults over the age of 19 are not meeting their adequate intake needs for potassium. The benefits of potassium are essential to meeting fitness goals, in addition to primary cellular function. Therefore, both athletes and non-athletes alike should ensure potassium supplements are included in their routine.
Potassium is required for our cells to function, but many factors outside our control can disrupt the amount of potassium in our bodies. Taking potassium supplements can offset the deficiency that other health issues may lead to.
Conditions That Put You More at Risk for Potassium Deficiency
- Cushing syndrome
- Eating disorders
- Certain medications
- Chronic diarrhea
- Kidney disorders
- Hypomagnesemia (low magnesium levels)
In addition to health conditions that can lead to a potassium deficiency, several medications can lower your potassium levels. Being aware of the side effects of medical conditions and medications can be exhausting; however, potassium supplements can provide the necessary nutrients to help you take back control.
A study out of The College of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona in the United States focused on medication-induced potassium deficiencies. Their research indicates that potassium deficiency directly related to medication is prevalent in older adults.
7 Medications That Can Lead to a Potassium Deficiency
- COPD Medications
- Risperdal and Seroquel
If you take any of these medications, consult with your doctor to determine the appropriate amount of potassium supplements your body needs.
Potassium Benefits After Exercising
The good news is the benefits of potassium can be achieved with diet, potassium supplements, or a mixture of both. Protein is a major player when creating a healthy diet plan for an active lifestyle. Potassium is one of several minerals responsible for activating the enzymes that allow for protein absorption.
Understanding potassium levels is essential when establishing your dietary needs and selecting potassium supplements.
Potassium Levels Chart for Food and Potassium Supplements
- Low potassium - less than 100
- Medium potassium - 100-200 mg
- High potassium - 201 - 300 mg
- Very high potassium - over 300 mg
In addition to another essential nutrient, magnesium, potassium is necessary for muscle recovery after working out. A magnesium or potassium deficiency can lead to muscle cramps or muscle spasms post-workout.
Exercising can lead to dehydration and sweating, and potassium and magnesium are responsible for maintaining fluid levels within the body. This is when the anabolic window comes into play. Eating a snack post-workout that is rich in potassium benefits your muscle recovery.
There are so many delicious and naturally derived foods rich in potassium. Eating healthy meals with leafy greens, dairy, starchy vegetables, beans, and nuts are great ways to incorporate potassium, benefiting your overall health and wellness.
5 Potassium-Rich Foods
- Half avocado - 345 mg of potassium
- 1 cup of sweet potatoes - 448 mg of potassium
- Pomegranate - 666 mg of potassium
- Banana - 420 mg of potassium
- 1 fillet of cooked Salmon - 658 mg of potassium
Can Your Body Have Too Much Potassium?
While the risk of ingesting too much potassium is low, it is important to keep an eye out for symptoms of elevated potassium levels.
Signs of Too Much Potassium (Hyperkalemia)
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
If you experience any of the following conditions, you could be at a higher risk for elevated potassium levels. Your body still needs the benefits of potassium to perform daily functions, but you should be aware of symptoms that may indicate an overabundance.
Conditions That Put You More at Risk for Hyperkalemia
- Addison’s disease
- Kidney disease
- Congestive heart failure
Potassium Rich Foods and Potassium Supplements for a Healthy Life
A combination of potassium-rich foods with potassium supplements can keep your cells working at their optimal potential. When our body is at its best on the smallest scale, it enables us to reach our larger goals.
Taking care of ourselves begins at the cellular level. So, whether your goal is to run a marathon, build muscle, or maintain a healthy lifestyle, the benefits of potassium play a vital role in our functionality.