Potassium is an essential mineral that falls into the group of nutrients called electrolytes. (The other electrolytes are sodium and chloride.) These substances play an important part in conducting electrical impulses within the body. They are also essential in maintaining the body’s normal fluid and chemical balances.
Potassium, along with the other electrolytes, regulates the movement of water in and out of the cells. The electrolytes also control the balance of acids and bases in body fluids and cells. If the balance of water and electrolytes or acids and base is disturbed, metabolic functions are upset. Balance is a key concept in maintaining these relationships; too much of this dietary mineral is as damaging as too little.
Potassium is essential for the proper working of muscle cells, including those in the heart. Both too much or too little disrupts heart function. It also plays a role in the transmission of nerve impulses and helps release energy from the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that are consumed in the diet.
Population studies have found that people who consume a diet high in potassium foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, and milk) have a reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes.
SIGNS OF DEFICIENCY:
Most potassium deficiencies result from excessive excretion through either the kidneys or the gastrointestinal tract. Prolonged vomiting, severe diarrhea or chronic laxative abuse can deplete the body’s reserves. Also prolonged use of diuretics, such as in the treatment of high blood pressure, can result in an excessive loss in the urine.
A deficiency is referred to as hypokalemia. This serious electrolyte imbalance may lead to abnormal heart rhythms, muscular weakness, lethargy, kidney failure, and in severe cases, even death.
Excessive potassium (hyperkalemia) can be as serious as a deficiency. The kidneys can handle moderate overdoses by increasing the amount of potassium excreted in urine. But, consuming a very large amount of it can overwhelm the body and result in cardiac arrest. More moderate hyperkalemia can cause irregular heartbeats, muscle spasms, tremor, and paralysis.
Potassium supplements should not be taken unless recommended by a doctor. As with any dietary supplement, potassium supplements should be used in amounts typically recommended for nutritional purposes only.
Apricots, bananas, beans, brown rice, figs, garlic, nuts, raisins, potatoes, orange juice, peanut butter, winter squash and yams.
Alfalfa, birch, borage, chamomile, coltsfoot, comfrey, dandelion, fennel, irish moss, kelp, meadowsweet, mullein, stinging nettle, parsley, peppermint, raspberry, thyme, wintergreen and yarrow.
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