Potassium Function in the body
Potassium belongs to the mineral elements and is found especially in cereals, vegetables and fruits. It is also present in foods of animal origin. Adults need daily about two grams of potassium. Potassium is included in many foods, normally the needs of potassium are covered with a normal diet. Potassium deficiency is rare condition in public.
A slight deficit of this mineral can be quickly resolved by including potassium-rich foods in the daily menu. However, it must be taken into account that the consumption of effervescent tablets, capsules or tablets with potassium can rapidly produce an excess of potassium. For this reason, preparations with potassium should only be taken on a medical recommendation.
Potassium belongs to the electrolytes of the human body. Electrolytes participate in the maintenance of osmotic pressure in the cells of the body and thus contribute to the regulation of water balance. Therefore, potassium is also routinely measured in blood tests. In that case, potassium concentration in the blood serum should be between 3.5 and 5.0 millimoles per liter.
Potassium plays an important role in the activation of some enzymes as production of proteins, metabolism of carbohydrates and important for generation of energy. Together with sodium and calcium, potassium acts on myocardial activity and is responsible for the excitability of muscle and nerve cells which is also necessary for the regulation of blood pressure.
The content of potassium in the body is closely related to the sodium content. More sodium you take (for example, as table salt), more potassium the body will secrete.
Potassium Daily Needs
An exact amount that body needs can not be established, since it is variable for each individual. Therefore, recommended values for the minimum requirements are always estimated values. Minimum needs are estimated at 2 grams of potassium a day for adults and young people from 15 years and older than 15 years. Daily needs are between 1 and 1.9 grams for children and young people under 15 years of age. Infants need approximately between 0.4 and 0.65 grams daily.
Potassium is present in many foods. Most people who are living in Europe meet their needs for potassium without problems with their daily diet. People with certain cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension need more than twice normal daily amount of potassium and should consult their physician or a nutritionist about the dietary habits they should adopt. People who consume a lot of salt will automatically secrete more potassium.
Foods That Rich in Potassium
Foods rich in potassium are especially plant foods:
- Cereals and vegetables (potatoes, spinach, salad, parsley)
- Fruit (avocado, bananas, apricots, figs, melons, kiwis, some types of berries, peaches, grapes, dried fruit), also in the form of juices.
- Meat and fish also contribute potassium, although not to the same extent as plant foods
If it is left to soak or cook the vegetable for a long time in water, potassium will pass into the liquid. If this liquid is not used and thrown away, potassium will be lost.
Potassium deficiency (hypokalemia)
When potassium concentration in the blood serum is less than 3.5 millimoles per liter , then there is potassium deficit (hypokalemia). Potassium deficiency is the most common form of electrolyte disorder. The causes for such a deficit can be found in:
- Prolonged and continuous vomiting
- Prolonged and continuous diarrhea
- Abuse of laxatives
- Cushing’s syndrome (hypercortisolism)
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
- Alcohol abuse
- Excessive consumption of salt
- Reduced supply of potassium, for example, for eating disorders such as bulimia or potassium-infused
- Acute disorder in acid-base balance (alkalosis)
- Insufficient intake of potassium by diet (common in elderly people)
- Dehydration due to insufficient fluid consumption
- Intense sweating
- Increased segregation by the kidneys
Potassium deficiency can cause a number of disorders in the body that are usually such as:
- Muscular weakness
- Humor changes
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Circulatory problems
- Renal Disorders
Older people should make sure they drink enough liquid every day. It is recommended to drink 1.5 to 2 liters of fluids a day. Treatment of potassium deficiency will depend on its cause. In case of a slight deficit, a diet rich in potassium will suffice. Food supplements in the form of effervescent tablets or capsules are not recommended. Because in this case the supply of potassium rapidly increases which can lead to excess potassium (hyperkalemia). Potassium preparations should only be given under medical supervision.
Excess Potassium (hypercalcemia)
Excess potassium is an increase in the value of potassium in blood serum above 5.5 millimoles per liter. Such a value may be due to a decrease in potassium consumption, for example: by blood infusions or transfusions.
In addition, hypercalcemia can also occur when the body’s cells release a large amount of potassium. This can occur in case of reduction of red blood cells by the destruction of their cellular membrane (hemolysis) by hyperacidification of the blood (acidosis) as well as by serious injuries, burns or infections.
Also, kidney disease or potassium-sparing diuretic medications can cause too much potassium in the blood. In this regard, special attention should be paid to dialysis patients: consumption of too many bananas can have serious consequences in these patients. Except for a few exceptions, symptoms of hypercalcemia are essentially the same as those of a potassium deficiency (hypokalemia).
In case of potassium poisoning, it can range from a decrease in the heart rate (bradycardia) to cardiac arrest, as well as muscle weakness and confusion.
In addition, phonation disorders and swallowing disorders also occur. In the case of potassium poisonin, a stomach wash with physiological saline solution may be performed as a treatment. In addition, cation exchangers or perfumes with sodium hydrogen carbonate are used.
In severe cases, blood clearance (hemodialysis) is performed. In case of potassium poisoning, it is especially important to monitor cardiac activity (using an ECG) and determine blood potassium concentration.
Healthy people should not take potassium additionally. Medications with potassium should only be taken when there is medical necessity and recommendation from a physician. Some examples would be a marked potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) as well as neuromuscular disorders or cardiac arrhythmias due to potassium deficiency.
Medications with potassium may be used to prevent hyperacidification (acidosis) of the blood in case of potassium deficiency. Kidney stones are also treated with medicines with potassium.
Side Effects and Contraindications
In the case of diseases associated with an increase in potassium concentration, such as restricted renal function, dehydration or Addison’s disease (a disease of the adrenal glands), potassium should not be taken.
The side effects in such case are:
If potassium is taken with other medicines, interactions may occur. Particular attention should be paid to the fact that potassium reduces effect of cardiotonic glycosides. On the other hand, certain medications can cause a higher concentration of potassium in the blood.