Generally people are familiar with common vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin C or Vitamin D, but what about potassium? It is required by the human body as it is a critical mineral for neuronal functioning in your brain and cells, maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance, muscle contractions and cardiovascular health. If you are not getting enough potassium (hypokalemia) in your diet you may be more prone to muscle spasms, fluid retention, dizziness, high blood pressure, stroke, muscle weakness, and intestinal issues (cramping, bloating, constipation).
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine established in 2004 that the average adult should consume about 4,700mg of potassium daily however many Americans do not even come close. Common causes for low potassium include lack of intake (poor diet), certain diuretics that cause potassium to be flushed out, vomiting, diarrhea and sweating without electrolyte replacement, alcoholism, ongoing laxative use or ongoing anorexia/bulimia, and kidney disease.
How much potassium are you getting? Let’s start with foods.
1 medium potato with the skin left on has about 900mg of potassium.
1 medium banana has 400mg.
½ cup of dried prunes has 600mg.
½ cup of raisins has 530mg.
½ cup of acorn squash has 450mg.
1 cup of cooked spinach has 850mg.
1 ounce of almonds has 200mg.
Remember the goal is 4,700mg per day and is ideally eaten in foods, however potassium is commonly in multivitamins, but does not often exceed 99mg. Elevated potassium is called hyperkalemia and results with excessive intake, potassium-sparing diuretics, and kidney failure, resulting in tingling of the hands and feet, weakness of the muscles, potential muscle paralysis (although this is temporary until the potassium levels are corrected) and an abnormal heart arrhythmia that could cause cardiac arrest.
The common medications that cause elevated potassium are potassium-sparing diuretics like spironolactone, certain blood pressure medications such as lisinopril, beta-blockers, and losartan. Medications that deplete potassium include penicillin, decongestants with pseudoephedrine in them, licorice, caffeine and certain inhalers such as albuterol.
Does this mean you need to avoid potassium? No, because it’s essential to life. But make sure you talk with your healthcare provider and get your electrolytes checked if you are taking high levels of potassium or on medications known to upset the potassium balance.
1) Linus Pauling Institiute: Potassium. Web. 17 Aug, 2011.
2) Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium Intakes and Risk of Stroke in Women. Web. 17 Aug, 2011.
3) Call for Increased Potassium Intake to Lower BP, Cut Deaths. Web. 17 Aug, 2011.
4) Sodium/Potassium Ratio Important for Health. Web. 17 Aug, 2011.
Reviewed August 17, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith