Medically reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
6 min read
Potassium is an important mineral in your body, and it’s widely available in many foods. That’s why, until quite recently, potassium deficiencies in our bodies would have been relatively rare. Two shifts in our behavior have changed that: In general, those of us in Western countries are eating a lot more processed foods, which has potassium removed, and we’re also, in general, eating fewer fruits and vegetables. We evolved to eat much more potassium than we are. So, it’s important to be intentional about getting enough potassium – it’s good for us!
Potassium is an electrolyte, which means that it helps conduct electrical impulses throughout the body and aids in essential body functions.
Potassium is essential to a wide range of biological processes – processes involving blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, cardiovascular health, bone health, the nervous system, and more. About 98% of the potassium in our bodies is found in our cells; of this, about 80% is found in our muscle cells, while the rest is found in bones, liver, and red blood cells. Potassium functions as an electrolyte inside our bodies: In water, an electrolyte dissolves into positive or negative ions that have the capacity for conducting electricity throughout the body. Potassium ions are positively charged. Our bodies use the electricity from potassium ions to manage a number of key functions, such as muscle contractions, nerve signals, and fluid balance.
Potassium has a symbiotic relationship with sodium; the two work together to regulate your blood pressure. The recommended daily potassium intake from foods is 3400 mg for men and 2600 mg for women 19 years and older.
As mentioned above, potassium has a symbiotic relationship with sodium. Simply put, sodium brings blood pressure up, while potassium brings it down. The key is striking the right balance, enabling you to maintain healthy blood pressure within normal limits.
A lot of us struggle with maintaining healthy blood pressure. Some reasons for this may include the fact that processed foods, which remove potassium, are more widely consumed than they once were, and the fact that people are eating fewer fruits and vegetables. We all know how challenging it can be to get the food you need. In the midst of our busy lives, we may reach for the simplest food option, processed or not. But studies show that increasing your potassium intake can lead to healthier, more balanced blood pressure levels. Other studies show that having a potassium-rich diet can help you maintain healthy blood pressure and eating fruits and veggies may be the best way to boost potassium levels. Another study of 1,285 participants aged 25-64 found that people who consumed the most potassium had reduced blood pressure compared to those who consumed the least. If maintaining healthy blood pressure is a goal of yours, adjusting your potassium intake could be a good place to start. In general, the most effective way of increasing your potassium intake is through diet. Consult with a medical professional about what’s right for you.
Potassium is essential for the creation and release of insulin in your body. If you’re not getting the right potassium intake, your body might not be making enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is released from the pancreas. This hormone helps manage several metabolic pathways in the body but the most important and well known nutrient is glucose (also known as sugar). Insulin manages where glucose travels to, how it is stored, and how your cells absorb the sugars from your foods after digestion.
Cardiovascular health is vitally important for your quality of life and longevity. Several medically reviewed studies have found that a potassium-rich diet can support heart health. Moreover, an analysis of 33 studies comprising 128,644 participants found the same thing: people who consumed more potassium had stronger cardiovascular health than those who ate less potassium.
The function of your nervous system is to relay messages between your brain and your body. It takes in information through our senses, and then it processes the information, triggering a reaction. An example of this process would be when you touch a hot plate: You instinctually pull back, and your nerves send signals to your brain, as if to say, *This is painful. Do not touch this. *
The messages passed along by our nervous system help regulate heartbeat, reflexes, muscle contractions, and other important body functions. These messages are nerve impulses that help regulate muscle contractions, heartbeat, reflexes, and several other body functions. These nerve impulses are generated by the relationship between sodium and potassium ions: sodium ions moving into cells, and potassium ions moving out. That’s why a drop in your potassium level can negatively impact your body’s ability to create a nerve impulse. Pay attention to your potassium intake and consult with a medical professional, because getting enough potassium in your diet can be the key to maintaining a healthy nervous system.
Your muscle and heart contractions are a function of your nervous system. Getting enough potassium is vitally important to the healthy functioning of your nervous system and, by extension, the regulation of muscle and heart contractions. Potassium levels that are too high or too low – that is, not properly balanced with the sodium in your body – can alter the voltage of your nerve cells, which affects the contractions of your muscles and heart. If the potassium levels in your blood are too high or too low, that can have an impact on your heartbeat. A heart that isn’t beating properly will affect the functioning of the rest of the body, causing problems in blood circulation.
When you think about bone health, you might automatically think of calcium. That makes sense, because calcium is an essential nutrient and 99% of the body’s calcium resides in our bones. It turns out, though, that you should also think of potassium: Studies from the National Institute of Health have shown that potassium-rich diets can support bone health by reducing the amount of calcium we lose through urine.
Here’s the good news: It is quite rare for someone to experience a potassium deficiency – this despite the fact that fewer than 2% of Americans meet the recommended intake. Likewise, it’s not very common for someone to get too much potassium. When it does occur, it’s typically the result of taking too many potassium supplements, not from consuming too much potassium in foods.
Potassium deficiencies occur when you rapidly lose too much potassium, which can happen as a result of vomiting, diarrhea, or suddenly losing too much water.
Excess blood potassium can happen when your body can’t remove enough potassium through urine. This is a particular problem for people who have kidney issues. It’s therefore important for certain populations to limit their potassium intake based on their body’s ability to remove it. Furthermore, there’s some evidence that taking too much potassium in supplement form can overcome the kidneys’ capacity for removing excess potassium. As always, you should discuss your particular situation with a medical professional.