Potassium

Potassium is one of the seven essential macrominerals.

Updated: May 24, 2019

Potassium is one of the seven essential macrominerals. The human body requires at least 100 milligrams of potassium daily to support key processes. The primary functions of potassium in the body include regulating fluid balance and controlling the electrical activity of the heart and other muscles.
A high potassium intake reduces the risk of overall mortality by 20 percent. It also decreases the risk of stroke, lowers blood pressure, protects against loss of muscle mass, preserves bone mineral density, and reduces the formation of kidney stones.
Your kidneys help to keep the right amount of potassium in your body. Your kidneys will not be able to remove extra potassium from the blood if you have chronic kidney disease. In such cases you may need a special diet to lower the amount of potassium that you eat. Some medicines also can raise your potassium level. Food sources of potassium include fruits (especially dried fruits), cereals, beans, milk, and vegetables.

Dietary Sources:

Many people get all the potassium they need from what they eat and drink. Potassium is present in all fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. Sources of potassium in the diet include:

  • Leafy greens, such as spinach and collards
  • Fruit from vines, such as grapes and blackberries
  • Root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes
  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit
  • Al nuts (especially almonds and pistachios)

Yam, parsley, dried apricots, milk, chocolate, tomato paste, orange juice, beet greens, white beans, potatoes, plantains, bananas, apricots, bamboo shoots, avocados, coconut water, soybeans, and bran are other good sources of potassium.
Some types of cooking, such as boiling, can decrease the potassium content in some foods. Therefore eat raw as much as possible to get the maximum benefit.
Also processing greatly reduces the amount of dietary potassium. A diet high in processed foods is probably low in potassium. To reduce the harmful effects of high sodium meals, you can eat a high potassium fruit or vegetable with each meal.

Deficiency:

Potassium deficiency, also known as hypokalemia can cause a range of symptoms and health problems. A normal potassium level is defined as between 3.5 and 5.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Hypokalemia is diagnosed when potassium levels fall below 3.5 mmol/L. Generally, there will be no symptoms for mild potassium deficiency.
A potassium level lower than 2.5 mmol/L is considered extremely deficient, and symptoms will become more severe as levels reduce.

Symptoms of low potassium levels include:

  • malaise and fatigue
  • weakness and muscle pain all over the body
  • constipation
  • Extremely low potassium levels can cause:
  • severe muscle weakness and paralysis
  • respiratory failure
  • painful obstructions in the gut
  • tingling, crawling, numb, or itchy sensations main felt in the hands, feet, legs, or arms
  • intermittent muscle spasms

Low potassium can be diagnosed using simple blood tests and treated by alterations to the diet, including supplements. Having regular medicals and health screenings will also help a person track their potassium levels and avoid any potential shortfalls.

Potassium deficiencies are more common in people who:

  • Use certain medicines, such as diuretics
  • Have physically demanding jobs
  • Athletes exercising in hot climates and sweating excessively
  • Have health conditions that affect their digestive absorption, such as Crohn's disease
  • Have an eating disorder
  • Smoke
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs

Uses & Effectiveness:

Effective for:

Hypokalemia or Low levels of potassium in the blood:

Taking potassium by mouth or intravenously (by IV) prevents and treats low levels of potassium in the blood.

Likely Effective for:

High blood pressure:

Taking potassium can lower blood pressure. Potassium seems to work best for people with high blood pressure, low potassium levels, high sodium intake, and for African Americans. People with high blood pressure should aim to eat foods that provide 3500-5000 mg of potassium daily. This intake of potassium is expected to lower blood pressure by about 4-5 mmHg in people with high blood pressure.

Possibly Effective for:

Stroke:

Higher intake of potassium from food has been linked with reduced risk of stroke. Taking potassium supplements has also been linked to a reduced risk of stroke.

Insufficient Evidence for:

Dental pain:

Using a toothpaste that contains potassium nitrite reduces tooth sensitivity. However, these toothpastes might still be less effective than other standard toothpastes.
More evidence is needed to rate potassium for the below uses:   

  •     Acne.
  •     Alcoholism.
  •     Allergies.
  •     Alzheimer's disease.
  •     Arthritis.
  •     Bloating.
  •     Blurred vision.
  •     Cancer.
  •     Chronic fatigue syndrome.
  •     Colitis.
  •     Confusion.
  •     Constipation.
  •     Fatigue and mood swings in early menopause.
  •     Fever.
  •     Gout.
  •     Headaches.
  •     Heart attack.
  •     Infant colic.
  •     Insulin resistance.
  •     Irritability.
  •     Meniere's disease.
  •     Menopausal symptoms.
  •     Muscle weakness.
  •     Muscular dystrophy.
  •     Myasthenia gravis.
  •     Skin problems.
  •     Stress.
  •     Trouble sleeping (insomnia).
  •     Other conditions.

Side Effects & Safety:

Individuals with good kidney function can efficiently rid the body of excess amounts of potassium in the urine. This process normally has no adverse side effects. Potassium is likely safe for most people when taken by mouth in amounts of up to 100 mEq of total potassium, or when given intravenously (by IV) by medical professionals. In some people, potassium can cause stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or intestinal gas.
Too much potassium is unsafe and can cause feelings of burning or tingling, generalized weakness, paralysis, mental confusion, low blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm, or death. Potassium can also cause health problems when a person consumes more than the 4,700 mg recommended Adequate Intake. Consuming too much potassium can be harmful to people whose kidneys are not fully functional. Excessive potassium consumption can lead to hyperkalemia, in which the kidneys cannot remove enough potassium from the body.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy or breast-feeding:

Potassium is likely safe when obtained from the diet in amounts of 40-80 mEq per day. Taking too much potassium is unsafe during pregnancy and breast feeding.

Allergy to aspirin or tartrazine products:

Avoid potassium supplements that contain tartrazine.

Disorders of the digestive tract that might alter the speed food and supplements pass through the body (GI motility conditions):

If you have one of these disorders, do not take potassium supplements. Potassium could build up to dangerous levels in your body.

Kidney disease:

Use potassium only with the advice and ongoing care of a healthcare professional if you have kidney problems.

Kidney transplant:

There could be very high potassium levels in people given potassium citrate immediately after kidney transplant. Use potassium only with the advice and ongoing care of a healthcare professional if you have received a kidney transplant.

Dialysis:

Blood levels of potassium may be high or low in people undergoing dialysis. Potassium levels can be different depending on what type of dialysis is used. If you are receiving dialysis, you may need to supplement or limit your potassium intake under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Interactions:

Be cautious with the below combination as they can have moderate interaction:

Medications for high blood pressure (ACE inhibitors) interacts with Potassium:

Some medications for high blood pressure can increase potassium levels in the blood. Taking potassium along with some medications for high blood pressure might cause too much potassium in the blood.
Some medications for high blood pressure include captopril (Capoten), enalapril (Vasotec), lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), ramipril (Altace), and others.

Medications for high blood pressure (Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)) interacts with Potassium:

Some medications for high blood pressure can increase potassium levels in the blood. Taking potassium along with some medications for high blood pressure might cause too much potassium to be in the blood.
Some medications for high blood pressure include losartan (Cozaar), valsartan (Diovan), irbesartan (Avapro), candesartan (Atacand), telmisartan (Micardis), eprosartan (Teveten), and others.

Water pills (Potassium-sparing diuretics) interacts with Potassium:

Some 'water pills' can increase potassium levels in the body. Taking some 'water pills' along with potassium might cause too much potassium to be in the body.
Some 'water pills' that increase potassium in the body include amiloride (Midamor), spironolactone (Aldactone), and triamterene (Dyrenium).

Dosing:

The following doses have been studied in scientific research and is recommended:

Adults:

By Mouth:

General:

The adequate intake (AI) of potassium is 4.7 grams per day for most adults, 4.7 grams per day for pregnant females, and 5.1 grams per day for lactating women.

For low levels of potassium (hypokalemia):

For preventing low levels of potassium, 20 mEq (about 780 mg of elemental potassium) is typically taken daily. For treating low levels of potassium, 40-100 mEq (about 1560-3900 mg of elemental potassium) is typically taken in 2-5 divided doses daily.

For high blood pressure (hypertension):

For treating high blood pressure, 3500-5000 mg of potassium daily, preferably as part of the diet, is recommended.

For stroke:

For preventing stroke, dietary intake of about 75 mEq (about 3.5 grams of elemental potassium) has been taken daily.

Intravenously (IV):

For low levels of potassium (hypokalemia):

The dose and rate of administration for intravenous potassium chloride for the prevention or treatment of hypokalemia varies and depends on the condition of each patient. Patients should be monitored and under the care of medical professionals at the time of administration.

Children:

General:

The adequate intake (AI) is 0.4 grams per day for infants up to 6 months old, 0.7 grams per day for infants 6-12 months old, 3 grams per day for children 1-3 years old, 3.8 grams per day for children 4-8 years old, and 4.5 grams per day for children 9-13 years old.


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