Potassium is essential to the life of every cell of a living being and is among the most generously and widely distributed of all the tissue minerals. It is found principally in the intracellular fluid where it plays an important role as a catalyst in energy metabolsim and in the synthesis of glycogen and protein. The average adult human body contains 120 g. as potassium and 245 g.as potassium chloride. Out of this body potassium, 117 g. is found in the cells and 3 g. in the extracellular compartment.
Potassium is important as an alkalizing agent in keeping a proper acid-alkaline balance in the blood and tissues. It is essential for muscle contraction and therefore, important for proper heart function. It promotes the secretion of hormones and helps the kidneys in detoxification of blood. Potassium prevents female disorders by stimulating the endocrine hormone production. It is involved in the proper functioning of the nervous system and helps overcome fatigue. It also aids in clear thinking by sending oxygen to the brain and assists in reducing blood pressure.
Potassium is widely distributed in foods. All vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables,grapes, oranges, lemons, raisins, whole grains, lentils, sunflower seeds, nuts, milk, cottage cheese and butter milk are rich sources. Potatoes, especial potato peelings, and bananas are especially good sources. Potassium requirements have not been established but on intake of 0.8 to 1.3 g. per day is estimated as approximately the minimum need. Potassium deficiency may occur during gastrotestinal disturbances with severe vomiting and diarrhoea, diabetic acidosis and potassium-losing nephritis. It causes undue nervous and body tiredness, palpitation of the heart, cloudiness of the mind, nervous shaking of the hands and feet, great sensitivity of the nerves to cold, and excessive perspiration of the feet and hands.
In simple cases of potassium deficiency, drinking plenty of tender coconut water daily , can make up for it. It is advisable to consume plenty of figs, apricots, prunes, almonds and tomatoes during the use of oral diuretics. Potassium-rich foods should be restricted during acute renal failure and Addison’s disease.
Potassium and Health
A diet low in potassium and high in sodium may be one of the factors that leads to high blood pressure. Eating equal amounts of sodium and potassium is recommended.Athletes involved in hard exercise may require larger quantities of potassium-rich foods.Potassium is found in meats, milk, fruits and vegetables.
Role in Heath
Many people know that high sodium intake may lead to hypertension. Approximately 10 percent of people with high blood pressure are sensitive to dietary salt (or sodium). A reduction in sodium helps lower blood pressure in all people with hypertension.
Newer evidence suggests that dietary potassium may play a role in decreasing blood pressure. Potassium is involved in nerve function, muscle control and blood pressure. A diet low in potassium and high in sodium may be a factor in high blood pressure. Increasing potassium in the diet may protect against hypertension in people who are sensitive to high levels of sodium.
For people who have hypertension, following an overall eating plan called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) may be useful for lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet is higher in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, and lower in total fat, saturated fat, and sodium than the typical diet.
However, taking potassium supplements is generally not recommended for people with high blood pressure. Instead, a variety of potassium-rich foods should be eaten daily.
Athletes also may need more potassium to replace that lost from muscle during exercise and the smaller amount lost in sweat. Low potassium can cause muscle cramping and cardiovascular irregularities. Eating foods high in potassium can prevent these symptoms. One cup of orange juice, a banana or a potato is sufficient to replace the potassium lost during one to two hours of hard exercise. Sport drinks are poor sources of potassium.
What does it do?
Potassium works with sodium to maintain the body's water balance. One possible explanation for potassium's protective effect against hypertension is that increased potassium may increase the amount of sodium excreted from the body. The kidneys regulate the level of potassium in the body.
Potassium deficiency is not common but may result from excessive losses due to severe diarrhea, poor diabetic control, low-calorie diets (less than 800 calories per day), chronic alcoholism, hard exercise, or some diuretics and laxatives.
Although their purpose is to eliminate excess sodium from the body, certain diuretics may increase potassium losses, while others retain potassium. If you take certain diuretics, you may need more or less potassium. Ask your physician about the type of diuretic drug you take and whether you require additional potassium. Some people who take diuretics may be prescribed a potassium supplement to help replace potassium loss.
Potassium is found in many foods, especially meat, milk, fruits and vegetables (see Table 1) below. Eat a variety of foods to get the recommended amount.
While sodium is added to most highly processed foods, potassium is not. Eating more fresh and frozen foods, which are usually lower in sodium, may be helpful.
Potassium is essential for good nutrition and health. Meeting the minimum requirement is not difficult if you eat a variety of foods. Maintaining the recommended sodium-to-potassium ratio, however, may be more difficult. Eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. A moderate increase in dietary potassium, in addition to a reduction of excess sodium, may be beneficial, especially for people at risk for hypertension.
Table :1.Where is Potassium :
Importance of Potassium
|Very good sources (300 mg or more)
|Breads and Cereals
Some people with heart failure need to eat foods high in potassium. Potassium helps maintain the normal function of the heart and nervous system. Many people with heart failure take a diuretic (water pill) to help their kidneys make more urine and get rid of excess fluid. This can cause potassium loss.
Doctors sometimes prescribe a potassium supplement and recommend eating more potassium-rich foods.
: raisins, prunes, apricots, dates.
: bananas, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges.
: beets, greens, spinach, peas, tomatoes, mushrooms.
: beans, peas.
: turkey, fish, beef.
: grapefruit, prune, apricot.
Every situation is different, so ask your healthcare team what's needed. People who have kidney problems or take certain medications may risk having potassium build up in their systems. And too much potassium can be just as harmful as too little.