Deal with Your Deficiencies!: Potassium
Welcome back to the FIFTH WEEK of our “Deal with Your Deficiencies” series. This week we hone in on another important electrolyte, POTASSIUM. I talked about potassium in this week's YouTube video also, and if you haven’t gotten a chance to check that out yet, you can do so HERE. So…let’s get into potassium!
The Importance of Potassium
Potassium is extremely under appreciated…and underestimated! It is truly a powerhouse mineral, and is imperative for proper bodily function, and even survival. Potassium’s primary claim to fame is its role in regulating the balance of water in cells. Along with sodium, potassium works to ensure cells do not become dehydrated OR saturated, through a mechanism in the cell called the “sodium-potassium pump.” This action of potassium, which controls the amount of water in cells, is why it is commonly thought of as a diuretic (rightfully so, but only under certain conditions/improper balance with sodium!).
Potassium does a LOT more than this, though. The majority of potassium (about 80%) is stored in the muscle cells, while the remaining 20% is distributed in the bones, red blood cells, and liver. As you can imagine with the high amount of it stored in the muscles, potassium is VERY important for muscles, specifically in their contraction. It is equally essential for the nervous system and enables these nerve impulses (that control muscle contraction—yes, including the heart muscle!) to be generated.
Other functions of potassium in the body include:
-Helps control blood pressure
-Promotes healthy bones and teeth
-Preventative against strokes
-Prevents water retention
-Keeps the kidneys healthy
-Preventative against urinary tract infections
Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency
Potassium deficiency is not all that common, primarily because the body is a MASTER at regulating that all-too-important balance between sodium and potassium. The body (unless under extreme circumstances) can generally regulate the balance of both, even when there isn’t quite enough of one or the other coming in (again, unless the insufficiency is too severe). Potassium INSUFFICIENCY, though, is much more common than you would think.
Although there is quite a bit of hysteria around getting too much potassium, many individuals don’t come close to getting enough—even WITH supplements! This is especially true for individuals dealing with conditions where excess fluid is lost chronically: think inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis), IBS-D, even prolonged instances of food poisoning. Also individuals who frequently experience vomiting, including medication-induced vomiting (chemo, etc.) are at the highest risk of potassium deficiency. Anything where a large amount of fluid is lost from the body in a very short period of time has the potential to instigate potassium deficiency—the body simply can’t regulate that fast. (NOTE: frequent urination, as in throughout the day, would NOT be a cause of potassium’s efficiency most likely. This is because, as mentioned above, when the fluid loss is spread out, the body is able to manage the losses as they come and adjust the balance accordingly. How cool is our body?!)
Common symptoms of potassium insufficiency/deficiency include:
-Muscle cramps and spasms
-Bloating, Constipation, Gas
-Muscle stiffness and achiness/throbbing
-Depression, Anxiety, Low tolerance to stress/stimulation
-Numbness and/or tingling (especially in hands and feet)
A Word on Potassium EXCESS (Hyperkalemia)
It’s rare to see high potassium levels in the body…but not obsolete. Potassium excess, hyperkalemia, is not a condition in and of itself, but a bright red flag that is signaling a problem with the kidneys that needs to be addressed ASAP. For more info on hyperkalemia, watch this week’s Wellness Wednesday YouTube video HERE.
Deal with Your Deficiency!
The easiest way to remember how to get your potassium is to use some good ol’ alliteration: “potassium is present in plants and produce.” BOOM! There ya go, easy way to remember what foods are high in potassium: PLANTS and PRODUCE (fruits and vegetables). Many herbs have impressive amounts of potassium too, but not enough to remedy a deficiency if you are experiencing one.
The foods HIGHEST in potassium are: potatoes, yams/sweet potatoes, bananas, kiwi, white beans (great northern/navy), pinto beans, coconut water, and avocado, among others.
Potassium supplementation is almost always not necessary…unless you have a condition (as mentioned above) that makes you simply unable to consume enough potassium-rich foods to keep up with the potassium lost.
In these cases, I HIGHLY recommend consulting with a nutritional therapist or Naturopathic Doctor to get a personalized recommendation for how to manage your potassium status. Potassium is not something you want to supplement with unless you REALLY know what you’re doing, how much you’re taking, and why you should be taking exactly that much.
Most potassium supplements use only micro-doses of potassium BECAUSE it has the potential to be dangerous if misused, and so are pretty much useless when it comes to correcting a deficiency (99 mg of potassium is the usual dose in supplements…and is literally the amount in about 2 bites of a banana).
Additionally, because potassium is all about BALANCE, I advise only taking supplements that are a BLEND of many electrolytes (if you need to supplement at all), instead of taking isolated potassium. This way, you’re supplying your body with more of EVERYTHING, and it will do the job of balancing everything out like it’s supposed to (and likes to!).
In cases of SEVERE potassium deficiency that has already been assessed by a medical doctor, I use isolated potassium citrate powder, which is linked below. Please do NOT use this product without proper advisement and under the care of a qualified nutritional practitioner skilled in therapeutic use of supplements.
So there you go, friends. That’s the rundown of potassium, and the last of the minerals we will cover in our Deal with Your Deficiencies series. Next week, the FINAL week of our series, we'll be looking at VITAMIN B12. Be sure you're subscribed so you don't miss the info on this important vitamin!
Potassium Citrate Powder
The electrolyte product I recommend, Ultima Replenisher
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DISCLAIMER: The statements made in this post and in any content provided by Dr. Anna Johnson and Anna's Organics Wellness are the opinions of the author only, and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you are experiencing symptoms of a medical problem, seek medical attention immediately or consult your physician for further guidance.