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Potassium

What is Potassium?

Alongside chloride and sodium, potassium is an essential mineral for normal body function as well as an electrolyte. As an electrolyte, potassium not only dissolves in water, but it carries an electrical charge as well. While potassium and sodium carry positive charges, chloride is the electrolyte that carries the negative charge. Potassium’s positive charge gives it the added benefit of being able to move easily through cell membranes. This is an essential activity because potassium dissolving in water means it is present in each cell that the body contains. Its primary role is to carry nutrients into the cells as it moves through membranes, and carry waste out upon leaving.

What does Potassium do?

Potassium plays an essential role in providing nutrients to cells, however, this mineral’s responsibility extends far beyond nutrient transport. In addition, potassium works to maintain balanced fluid levels in and around each cell that exists within the human body. Potassium has the added job of helping to maintain the heart’s regular beat and make sure blood pressure levels remain even.

Beyond all of this, potassium also contributes to muscle contraction and relaxation, carries nerve impulses and ensures that the body does not become too alkaline or acidic, which is referred to as the pH level. Despite its extensive network of responsibilities, the majority of the body’s potassium supply is located within cells.

Where is Potassium found?

Potassium is primarily found in food that is available for consumption. Food sources that possess potassium-rich qualities include meats, poultry, fish, citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, dairy products, leafy green vegetables, dried fruits and mushrooms.

Beverages that are high in potassium content include tomato juice, milk, prune juice and apple juice. The effects of potassium can be increased by combining potassium-rich foods with products that have high levels of Vitamin C and calcium as these minerals tend to compliment one another.

For those looking to supplement potassium levels more directly, over the counter dietary capsules are available for potassium. It is advised that a physician be consulted before taking these supplements to avoid any adverse reactions or over-dosages.

What happens when someone has a Potassium deficiency?

As an electrolyte that carries a charge through liquid in the body, potassium is a very fluid-based mineral. That being said, potassium deficiencies most often occur when a medical condition or illnesses causes an individual to lose a great amount of fluid through vomiting or diarrhea. While a deficiency of any electrolyte is cause for concern, a potassium deficiency is extremely dangerous in children who tend to have levels lower more quickly than adults.

Some of the primary symptoms related to a potassium deficiency include becoming disoriented, nausea, muscle cramps and overall weakness and fatigue. Patients suffering from underlying heart conditions or who retain low fluid levels over an extended period of time have a higher risk of suffering from heart failure as the result of a potassium deficiency.

Helpful food sources, supplements and additional benefits of Potassium

Balanced potassium levels can have an important effect on a person’s overall health. In fact, studies have shown that individuals with balanced potassium counts have an easier time maintaining blood pressure levels. Similarly, potassium may be a key electrolyte in the prevention of a stroke later in life.

Potassium – AIs (Adequate Intakes)

Infants
0-6 months
7-12 months
Grams per Day
0.4
0.7
Children
1-3 years
4-8 years

3.0
3.8
Males
9-13 years
14-18 years
19-30 years
31-50 years
50-70 years
> 70 years

4.5
4.7
4.7
4.7
4.7
4.7
Females
9-13 years
14-18 years
19-30 years
31-50 years
50-70 years
> 70 years

4.5
4.7
4.7
4.7
4.7
4.7
Pregnancy
< 19 years
19-30 years
31-50 years

4.7
4.7
4.7
Lactation
< 19 years
19-30 years
31-50 years

5.1
5.1
5.1

 

Sources:
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/potassium.html
http://www.webmd.com/search/search_results/default.aspx?query=potassium
http://www.vitalhealthzone.com/nutrition/minerals/potassium.html
http://nutrition.about.com/od/mineralglossary/g/potassiumglossary.htm
USDA Dietary Reference Intakes