Potassium is an electrolyte (which means that it has an electrical charge in the water and the blood) and is, after calcium and phosphorus, the most common mineral in our body. Sodium and chloride are also electrolytes, and for normal performance of many vital functions, the balance of all substances with electrical charges is essential. Almost all potassium is inside the cells.
How does it work?
Like other electrolytes, potassium is important for transmitting nerve impulses, muscle contraction, as well as heart rate and blood pressure regulation. Potassium determines the amount of water in the cells, and the sodium outside them, so that these two minerals regulate the balance of body fluids.
It also enables the conversion of glucose (main energy source) into glycogen, the form in which it is stored in the liver and muscles. Potassium stimulates urination and helps in the removal of toxic compounds and metabolism products from the body.
PREVENTION: scientific research regularly confirms that people who take more potassium have lower pressure than those who take less. The results are unchanged even with the use of large amounts of sodium (although with lower amounts of sodium the blood pressure is even lower). In one study, people who are suffering from high pressure were divided into two groups. One group got regular food, and the other potassium-rich food, several times a day. After one year, 81% of people who consumed an increased amount of potassium could have lowered the dose of high blood pressure medicines, while only 29% of the patients in the first group succeeded.
ADDITIONAL USEFUL EFFECTS: because it works on lowering blood pressure, potassium reduces the risk of heart disease or stroke. In one study, the risk of lethal stroke was 40% lower in people who consumed more potassium each day. A 12-year long study has shown that people who take the least amount of potassium have a 2.5 times greater risk of death caused by stroke than those who take the most of this element; in women this risk was even five times higher.
How much potassium is needed?
The recommended value of daily intake of potassium for both women and men is 3500 mg. You can find it in different types of food; fruits and vegetables are especially rich in this mineral. As a large number of people do not eat enough of these foods, about a third of the UK’s population take less than 2500 mg of potassium per day.
IF YOU TAKE TOO LITTLE: in healthy people, reduced intake of potassium does not cause any interference. The first signs of the deficiency of this element are weakness of the muscles and nausea. Serious deficiency of potassium will occur in people who take medicine for urinary incontinence (to reduce excess fluid in the body). If the deficiency is not reversed, the heart may fail.
IF YOU TAKE TOO MUCH: harmful effects of the potassium are very rare, as most people can easily take 18 g of that element per day. Toxic effects occur in people who have some severe kidney disease or those who take dietary supplements with potassium. Signs of potassium overdose are muscle fatigue and abnormal heart rhythm. Even small potassium doses can cause stomach irritation and nausea.
How to take it?
DOSAGE: most people have no need for potassium supplements, unless they are taking medicines for urinary incontinence. In such cases, it is often enough to eat foods rich in potassium. Patients who are on ACE therapy and those who have some kidney disease should not take any supplements that contain that mineral.
USE GUIDELINES: should you take potassium supplements, take it with a meal to reduce stomach irritation.
Fresh fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, bananas, oranges and orange juice contain plenty of potassium. Good sources are also meat, poultry, milk and yogurt.
IMPORTANT: if you have any kidney or heart disease, or if you take medications to lower blood pressures, do not take potassium unless your doctor tells you otherwise.