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Nutrition

Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

5 Hints That You Need More Potassium

Potassium often goes unnoticed in the diet and heart disease equation despite its role in stroke prevention and the treatment of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. With further preventative roles in osteoporosis and kidney stones, avoiding and identifying potassium deficiency can be vital to living a healthy life.

5 Hints That You Need More Potassium


Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte imperative for nerve and muscle cells, ultimately transmitting nerve impulses and contracting muscles including the heart. When it comes to diet and heart disease, the finger tends to point at salt, dietary fat and cholesterol. But potassium often goes unnoticed in the diet and heart disease equation despite its role in stroke prevention and the treatment of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. With further preventative roles in osteoporosis and kidney stones, avoiding and identifying potassium deficiency can be vital to living a healthy life.

The Causes of Low Potassium

Also known as a hypokalemia, low potassium is commonly caused by excessive potassium loss – either in the urine related to diuretics (fluid or water pills) or via gastrointestinal losses including vomiting or diarrhea. Rarely, potassium deficiency results from lack of potassium in the diet. Specific causes of potassium loss include chronic kidney disease, diabetic ketoacidosis, primary aldosteronism, digestive conditions, folic acid deficiency and excessive sweating and alcohol and laxative use. Hypokalemia is diagnostically defined as 3.5 millimolar per liter (mmol/L) based on serum potassium concentration or further broke down by relative severity (3.5 to 4.0 mmol/L), moderate severity (2.5 to 3.5 mmol/L) and severe hypokalemia (less than 2.5 mmol/L).

What Are the Symptoms of Low Potassium? 5 Hints You May Need More

1. Fatigue

Tiredness and lack of energy is one of the most common hints you may be experiencing low potassium. Though low energy is multifaceted, it may be a symptom of hypokalemia considering the body's cells utilize potassium.

2. Muscle Weakness

Running parallel with fatigue, weakness is a common complaint of a potassium deficiency. Affected cellular processes following electrolyte imbalances can degrade muscular strength.

3. Muscle Cramps

Along with muscle weakness, hypokalemia may create muscle cramps relative to compromised cellular functions, particularly in muscle cells.

4. Constipation

When the body is low of potassium, you may experience constipation related to ileus. Ileus is a bowel condition in which the intestine experiences immobility of normal contractions, thus resulting to an inability to remove waste from the body.

5. Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Also known as arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm is a severe symptom of low potassium. Limited potassium can result to constricted blood vessels, thus increasing blood pressure and straining the heart to pump out blood.

Avoid and Defeat Potassium Deficiency

Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine established the following adequate intake (AI) levels to reduce potassium-related conditions across all life stages:

*Adapted from Linus Pauling Institute Medical Information Center

Though potassium deficiency is fairly uncommon related to poor diet intake, it is important to minimize the underlying condition or expand potassium intake. Increase potassium intake with these eight foods with more potassium than bananas, also indicating just how much potassium each food offers!

References:

Low Potassium (Hypokalemia). Mayo Clinic. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/low-potassium/basics/definition/sym-20050632.

Hypokalemia and Hyperkalemia. Cleveland Clinic. Available at: http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/nephrology/hypokalemia-and-hyperkalemia/.

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