Potassium- A mineral with multiple health benefits – right from maintaining electrolyte balance to reducing the risk of stroke.
Potassium is one of the most important nutrients in our body. You’ll be surprised to know the numerous health benefits of potassium-even enhancing bone health and proper functioning of the nervous system.
This blog looks at the different health benefits of potassium, how we can increase our potassium levels and what happens if there is a shortage or excess of potassium in our body.
What is Potassium?
Potassium is a macromineral and one of the most abundant electrolytes in the human body. The mineral’s name comes from the English “pot-ash,” which refers to extracting potassium salts from the ashes of burned wood in a pot,” which was the predominant method of production prior to the Industrial Revolution.
Why is Potassium Important?
There are a number of benefits of potassium. It transfers nutrients and waste items into and out of cells and is found in all bodily cells and tissues. It also aids in the contraction of your muscles, particularly those that govern your heartbeat and breathing.
Potassium-rich foods are beneficial in the treatment of high blood pressure (hypertension) because potassium counteracts the effects of sodium. Potassium also helps to reduce blood pressure by reducing tension in blood vessel walls.
Below, we’ll look at a few benefits of potassium in the body, different food sources, the recommended amount, and the consequences of eating too little or too much.
Health Benefits of Potassium
- Nervous system
Nerve impulses (messages) are sent between the brain and the body through the nervous system to help regulate muscle contractions, reflexes, heartbeat, and other body functions.
Potassium aids the brain’s ability to generate and communicate these messages.
A decrease in potassium levels might disrupt the body’s ability to send and receive nerve impulses, resulting in prolonged contractions like muscle cramps .
- Regulate Heart Contractions
Increasing potassium consumption lowers the risk of cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Potassium may also help to reduce calcium buildup in the smooth muscle cells of arteries, thus lowering the risk of atherosclerosis .
- Blood pressure
High sodium levels are associated with hypertension or high blood pressure.
The first step in managing hypertension is to change one’s lifestyle and dietary habits, according to all national and international norms.
Growing evidence suggests that increasing potassium intake, whether through foods or supplements, is linked to significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure .
Several studies show that a high potassium intake lowers the risk of stroke by about 25 percent .
Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and porous and is generally linked with low levels of calcium.
Potassium in the diet may help to prevent calcium loss from the bones, resulting in increased bone mineral density. Dietary potassium intake helps in enhancing bone mineral density in older men and postmenopausal women .
- Kidney Stones
Insufficient potassium intake leads to urinary calcium excretion. And abnormally high urinary calcium is often the most common identifiable risk factor for kidney stones .
- May help reduce Water Retention
Excess sodium in the body causes water retention which can lead to a number of diseases like thyroid, hypertension, etc.
Potassium reduces water retention in two ways, by reducing sodium content and by increasing urine output .
- Fluid balance
Potassium is found inside the cells, while sodium is found outside; these two elements work together to keep the electrolyte concentration in the cells at an ideal level, preventing cell shrinkage or burst.
Maintenance of an adequate fluid balance is vital to health as inadequate fluid intake or excessive fluid loss can lead to dehydration, which in turn can affect cardiac and renal functions which will lead to inadequate urine production, renal failure, and electrolyte toxicity.
Recommended Intake of Potassium
Adult men (18+) require approximately 3,400 mg of potassium, while adult women (18+) require approximately 2,600 mg.
During pregnancy, 2,900 mg per day is recommended, while breastfeeding mothers should get 2800 mg per day .
Food Sources of Potassium
Potassium is widely available in foods, especially in plant foods. The richest sources of potassium are fruits and vegetables such as bananas, spinach, potatoes, etc., and some legumes. Dairy products, fish, meat, and nuts can also get you a good amount of potassium.
Other good sources of potassium include :
|Food Source||Amount of Potassium/ 100g|
|Kidney beans, boiled||405 mg|
|Lentils, cooked||369 mg|
|Salmon, raw||363 mg|
|Spinach, raw,||334 mg|
|Tomato, raw||292 mg|
|Chicken breast,||256 mg|
|Milk, 1% fat,||150 mg|
|Egg, boiled||126 mg|
|Apple, with skin,||107 mg|
What happens when we take too little Potassium?
Certain conditions can cause low potassium levels in the body also known as Hypokalaemia.
Low blood potassium is a life-threatening problem however symptoms are different depending on how severe your deficiency is. Some common symptoms include-
- Loss of appetite
- Mental confusion
- Glucose intolerance
- Irregular heartbeats
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle spasms, weakness, or cramping
- Constipation, nausea, or vomiting .
A temporary decrease in potassium for example after a hard workout you may sweat but this will not cause any symptoms, your potassium levels may normalize after eating a meal or drinking electrolytes. But certain conditions can cause Hypokalemia, these include:
- Kidney disease
- Eating disorders like Anorexia nervosa or Bulimia
- Use of some diuretics used to treat hypertension
What happens when we have too much Potassium in our body?
While there are many health benefits of potassium in the body, certain conditions cause the build-up of potassium in the body causing potassium toxicity.
A high level of potassium is rare in people who eat balanced diets but taking too many potassium supplements or taking medications that hold onto potassium in the body or using high amounts of potassium-based salt substitutes can lead to toxicity.
Symptoms include :
- Heart palpitations, irregular heart rate
- Weakness, fatigue
- Nausea, vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain .
Several medications have the potential to affect potassium digestion in ways that could be dangerous. People taking the following or any other medications should discuss their potassium intakes with their healthcare providers :
1) Potassium-sparing diuretics
Potassium-sparing diuretics like amiloride and spironolactone lower potassium excretion in the urine, which can lead to hyperkalemia. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your potassium levels, especially if you have poor kidney function or if you’re advising a doctor.
2) ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs)
ACE inhibitors, such as benazepril and ARBs such as losartan are used to treat hypertension and heart failure, these medications reduce urinary potassium excretion, which can lead to hyperkalemia. It is recommended to monitor potassium status in people taking ACE inhibitors or ARBs, or advising a healthcare provider especially if they have other risk factors for hyperkalemia, such as impaired kidney function.
3) Loop and thiazide diuretics
Loop diuretics like furosemide and bumetanide, as well as thiazide diuretics, increase urine potassium excretion, which can lead to hypokalemia. People taking these medications should have their potassium levels monitored, and potassium supplementation should only be started if the doctor recommends it.
Types of Potassium supplements
There are a variety of potassium supplements available in the market. Different types are better for different ailments
The various available supplements include-
- Potassium Chloride
- Potassium Citrate
- Potassium Gluconate
- Potassium Bicarbonate
- Potassium Aspartate
- Potassium Orotate
It is always best to receive your potassium from foods, but some people continue to fall short of the recommended daily intake of potassium. You should seek professional guidance either from your physician or dietitian if you want to start supplementation.
Potassium supplements are available as liquid, capsules, tablets, and come in the forms mentioned above.
The amount and the type should always be determined by a medical professional.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits over-the-counter potassium supplements to less than 100 mg per serving which is just 2% of the daily recommendation.
Because of the potential for serious side effects, if consumed in excess, it is advised to seek medical help before deciding to use a potassium supplement.
Potassium is a necessary mineral for maintaining blood pressure and ensuring smooth nerve communication. There are several potassium benefits for health including reducing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, kidney stones, and heart disease.
Eating a diet high in legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is the best approach to meet your potassium requirements.
Anyone considering taking potassium supplements should seek medical advice and supervision, particularly those with kidney illness who are at risk of developing hyperkalemia or hypokalemia.
Is garlic high in potassium?
100g of Garlic contains 401 mg of potassium which is a noteworthy amount. 
What food has more potassium than bananas?
100g banana contains 358 mg Potassium
Other high sources include:
- Prunes (dried plums), 100g –732 mg
- Potatoes,100g –421mg
- Avocado,100g – 485mg 
How long does it take to recover from low potassium?
How long will it take to correct the deficiency usually depends on how low your potassium supplies are.
Doctors are able to correct severe deficiencies in the hospital in just a few hours or it can be done in an outpatient setting over a few days.
Best time to take a potassium supplement?
The best time to take potassium medicine/ supplement is with a meal or bedtime snack, or within 30 minutes after meals.
Is potassium good for kidneys?
It is the job of healthy kidneys to maintain the right amount of potassium in your body.
However, when your kidneys are not healthy or are not functioning properly, you often need to limit certain foods that can increase the potassium in your blood to a dangerous level.
Having too little or too much potassium can result in complications that affect the kidneys.
- Cheng, Chih-Jen et al. “Extracellular potassium homeostasis: insights from hypokalemic periodic paralysis.” Seminars in nephrology vol. 33,3 (2013): 237-47.
- “How too little potassium may contribute to cardiovascular disease”, National Institute of Health, (2017)
- Burnier, Michel. “Should we eat more potassium to better control blood pressure in hypertension?.” Nephrology, dialysis, transplantation : official publication of the European Dialysis and Transplant Association – European Renal Association vol. 34,2 (2019): 184-193.
- Kong, S H et al. “Dietary potassium intake is beneficial to bone health in a low calcium intake population: the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) (2008-2011).” Osteoporosis international : a journal established as result of cooperation between the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the USA vol. 28,5 (2017): 1577-1585.
- Gallen, I W et al. “On the mechanism of the effects of potassium restriction on blood pressure and renal sodium retention.” American journal of kidney diseases : the official journal of the National Kidney Foundation vol. 31,1 (1998): 19-27.
- ”Potassium- Fact sheet for Health Professionals” National Institute of Health (2021)
- U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,2021
- “Low Blood Potassium”, MedlinePlus, (2021)
- “High Blood Potassium”, MedlinePlus, (2021)
- 10. Leslie SW, Sajjad H. “Hypercalciuria” [Updated 2021 Apr 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; (2021)