Karen Schroeder Kassel, MS, RD, MEd
Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte in your body. Electrolytes are compounds that are able to conduct an electrical current.
Potassium's functions include helping to:
Most people should aim to get close to 5,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day.
Severe potassium deficiency leads to a low potassium level in the blood, called hypokalemia. But a potassium deficiency is rare in healthy people. However, certain conditions can cause the body to lose significant amounts of potassium. Examples of these conditions include:
Signs of a severe potassium deficiency include the following:
If hypokalemia persists, it can lead to irregular heartbeat. This can dangerously decrease the heart's ability to pump blood.
In addition, people who are on high blood pressure medication
should ask their doctor about the need for a potassium supplement.
Potassium is rarely toxic because excess amounts are usually excreted in the urine. However, people with kidney problems may be unable to properly excrete potassium, allowing it to build up in the bloodstream (called hyperkalemia). Therefore, people with kidney problems need to closely monitor their potassium intake.
Hyperkalemia can also lead to an irregular, sometimes fatal heartbeat.
Potassium is found in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Less processed foods tend to have more potassium.
Here are some examples of foods that are high in potassium:
You can make small changes to your diet that will help increase your intake of potassium. These include:
American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Office of Dietary Supplements
Dietitians of Canada
Health Canada Food and Nutrition
Chapter 8 sodium and potassium. Health website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/chapter8.htm. Updated July 9, 2008. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Food sources of potassium. Health website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/appendixb.htm. Updated July 9, 2008. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Hyperkalemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 14, 2013. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 6, 2014. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Hypokalemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 15, 2013. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Potassium. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Available at:http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6801&terms=potassium. Updated January 2013. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Whelton PK, He J, Cutler JA, et al. Effects of oral potassium on blood pressure. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
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