The No. 1 Deficiency in Humans: Potassium Deficiency, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
A shocking number of people are deficient in potassium. Potassium is a crucial nutrient that helps our body function at it's best. If you have a deficiency, you are putting yourself at risk of a number of preventable illnesses. It's hard to detect a potassium deficiency, and often doctors don't test for it, so the only way to really tell whether you have a potassium deficiency or not is to recognize the symptoms.
Signs Of Potassium Deficiency
- Muscle cramps
- Irregular heartbeat
- High BP
- Sugar Cravings
- Poor memory
- Joint pain
- Losing hair - hair is made up of proteins and potassium helps in breakdown and digestion of proteins so that it could be utilised by the body to build beautiful hairs.
- Pain in the abdomen
- Poor concentration
- Low bone density
Importance Of Potassium In The Body
Potassium plays a couple of very important roles in our bodies. Without it, our bodies would not be able to function. If you are on a ketogenic or paleo diet (low carb diet), you need to make sure that you get enough of both sodium and potassium to make sure you have the electrolytes that your body needs.
Potassium does the following:
- Muscle contractions: It makes sure that all our muscles can contract correctly. This prevents cramps and spasms as well as aiding movement. Your heart needs potassium to be able to beat correctly. Your heart beating correctly transports nutrients and oxygen around your body and is responsible for good blood circulation. It's vital to have a healthy heart.
- Healthy nerve function: Just as with the electrical impulses that contract our muscles, potassium ensures that your nerve impulses work correctly. You will be able to think more clearly, and your body will be able to transmit signals, such as texture, heat, pain, and your brain sends signals to your body causing it to react appropriately.
- Better blood sugar control: This is particularly helpful for those struggling with low blood sugar levels. Potassium also helps your body to use the energy from food, including glucose from carbohydrates, eliminating the fatigue and cravings that often come with diabetes or for anyone who struggles with stabilizing their blood sugar levels.
- Better electrolyte balance: Your sodium and bicarbonate levels both play an important role in your health. To maintain healthy blood pressure, bone health, fluid regulation, absorption of nutrients, and lower the risk of inflammation you need enough potassium.
- Better fluid regulation: Potassium helps to regulate the fluids in your body making sure that you do not have too much or too little fluids going into your cells. It helps to prevent edema (fluid retention in your limbs) and also minimises pain and bloating in your stomach.
- Healthy blood pressure: Because potassium is responsible for making sure the heart beats correctly, it also controls your blood pressure. Studies done showed that people who suffer from high blood pressure benefit enormously from the dietary intake of potassium. Some were even able to stop taking their blood pressure medication.
The effect of potassium on the heart is huge. Dr. Mercola says:
I agree with the PURE study’s authors when they say that a better strategy to promote public health would be to forgo the strict sodium reduction element, and focus recommendations instead on a high-quality diet rich in potassium, as this nutrient helps offset the hypertensive effects of sodium. Imbalance in this ratio can not only lead to hypertension (high blood pressure) but also contribute to a number of other diseases.
Potassium Deficiency Causes
Poor dietary choices are one of the biggest culprits of a deficiency in potassium. In most people, a potassium deficiency is completely avoidable. A diet high in processed foods is often high in sodium which can cause an imbalance in the sodium to potassium ratio. This kind of diet is also often devoid of the nutritious food that contains potassium leading to a deficiency.
Other Causes Of Potassium Deficiency Are:
- Diarrhoea and/or vomiting, where you lose electrolytes.
- Overactive sweat glands
- Taking laxatives frequently
- Taking antibiotics
- Eating too little ( Chronic Dieting, the worst thing that you can do to yourself. )
- Taking diuretics
- Drinking too much water. I heard it often from the gym freaks that drinking around 4 liters of water per day is good for the muscle recovery. But if you drink too much water you will secrete all your electrolytes in the urine. The first symptom of having imbalanced electrolytes is suddenly hearing your heartbeat which is normally unnoticed.
- Exercising for more than an hour on a regular basis
Sources Of Potassium In The Diet
Adults need 4700 mg of potassium per day. This a LOT! When you will look at the table with the natural sources of Potassium, you can imagine how hard it is to get the major nutrient from the diet alone. But, still, the best way to meet your potassium requirements every day is a healthy diet. The following foods contain potassium and are easy to add to any meal.
- Swiss Chard- 960 mg per cup
- Baked potato with skin- 919 mg per medium potato
- Baked acorn squash- 896 mg per cup
- Avocado- 975 mg per avocado
- Sweet potato- 855 mg per large sweet potato
- Spinach- 838 mg per cup
- Dried apricots- 756 mg per 1/2 cup
- Winter squash- 660 mg per cup
- Beet greens- 644 mg per 1/2 cup
- Crimini mushrooms- 635 mg per 142 g
- Salmon- 534 mg per 85 g
- Broccoli- 505 mg per cup
- Brussels sprouts- 494 mg per cup
- Yoghurt- 398 mg per 170 g
- Artichoke- 345 mg per medium artichoke
- Celery- 344 mg per cup
- Kale- 329 mg per cup
- Romaine lettuce- 324 mg per 2 cups
- Kiwi- 240 mg per medium kiwi
- Grass-fed beef- 237 mg per 85 g
This is basically, the list of all healthy foods that you can imagine. So the only way to meet your daily need is to eat lots of green leafy vegetables, especially the dark green ones. I once got tired eating supplements and thought that this holiday, I would try to get all from food. Eating 7-8 servings of vegetables is boring and monotonous.
Then I thought what are the best ways to eat lots of vegetables and still not feeling over full. The simplest way is to make a vegetable smoothie in the summers and vegetable "Saag" ( here you will cook the green leafy with healthy fat and delicious species ). The magic of eating "Saag" is that in one cup you can eat a bag full of dark leafy greens.
1. An example of dinner (3750 mg of potassium):
- 1 cup of swiss chard
- 1 cup acorn squash
- 1 large sweet potato
- 85 g of salmon
- 1 cup of broccoli.
2. Green Smoothies Are Also Great For Health:
For 2344 mg of potassium:
- Celery (1/2 cup = 172 mg)
- Spinach (1 cup = 838 mg)
- Kale ( 1 cup = 329 mg): Do cook and drain the kale to reduce the oxalic acid overload.
- Avocado (1/2 avo = 487 mg)
- You can add some raw yogurt (170 g = 398 mg) and a slice or two of kiwi (1/2 kiwi = 120 mg) for flavour
Be sure to lightly steam or quickly boil chard, kale, and spinach before adding them to your smoothie because this helps to get rid of the anti-nutrients that keep nutrients from being absorbed by your body. Click here to read more about healthy juices and smoothies.
Should You Use Light Salt?
I researched thoroughly, how to add more potassium to my diet. There is something called Light (Lite) salt. It is a lower sodium option and has potassium chloride added to boost the intake of potassium. In just 1/4 teaspoon there is 360 mg of potassium and only 300 mg of sodium. While using a small amount of this salt, for example, in a smoothie, is not a bad thing, too much of anything is never healthy
A Word Of Caution About Hyperkalemia?
First of all, you should know that when tests were done in the USA, 97% people were potassium deficit. But, still, it is my duty to inform you about the dark sides. So Hyperkalemia is when someone has an excess of potassium in their bodies. Usually, this would be caused by an illness or injury that prevents the body from getting rid of excess potassium or releases potassium into the bloodstream. This includes certain medications used to treat certain illnesses or even taking supplements at a high dose.
You should not use light salt if you are struggling with any of the following:
- Kidney problems
- Kidney disease
- Reduction or damage to red blood cells due to injury
- Are on medication for hypertension
- Are an alcoholic suffering from muscle loss
- Addison's disease
- Type 1 diabetes
Potassium supplements are not necessary unless advised by your doctor when medical situations warrant it or those times you are unable to eat a healthy diet for whatever reason. A healthy diet containing potassium-rich foods is the best way to prevent any deficiencies and even treat an existing deficiency. The best form of potassium to take if you do need a supplement is potassium citrate or potassium bicarbonate to ensure good absorption and usage by the body. Most supplements contain potassium chloride.
Although I try my best to have these nutrients from the diet, when I am traveling, I carry this supplement with me. The best time to take it is at bedtime. Do not take more than 400 mg. It's best to start off slowly at 100-200 mg and work your way up if you need more.
- Potassium helps to regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and your heart beat.
- Potassium deficiency is very common. 97% of tested people were potassium deficit.
- Deficiency is caused by the use of diuretics, taking laxatives often, over exercising and drinking too much water
- Symptoms include muscle cramps, high blood pressure, fatigue and poor memory
- The top 3 potassium-rich-foods are: swiss chard, baked potato, and acorn squash
- Causes of excess potassium are kidney disease, type 1 diabetes, and taking too much potassium in supplement form
- If needed, take a potassium supplement made of potassium citrate or potassium bicarbonate only.
- Do not take more than 400 mg at once.