Potassium is an essential micronutrient required for cellular function. It is highly reactive in water and produces positively charged potassium ions. These ions help conduct electrical impulses throughout the body. This is important for many body processes. 98% of the potassium in the body is found inside the cells.
As per U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 100 g of coffee contains 49 mg of potassium. This makes it a low-potassium food. However, drinking more than three cups of coffee a day is considered high in potassium and could increase the body's potassium levels. Adding creamers or milk can further increase the coffee's potassium content. The same applies to tea.
The appropriate potassium intake required for healthy functioning of the body systems is 4,700 mg per day. A potassium-rich diet reduces the risk of stroke, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of kidney stones, and prevents muscle cramps. Potassium is usually found in many wholes, unprocessed foods such as fresh leafy greens, avocados, tomatoes, potatoes, and beans. A decrease in potassium level (hypokalemia) and an increase in potassium level (hyperkalemia) can result in potentially life-threatening health problems.
What are the signs and symptoms of hyperkalemia?
High levels of potassium are seen in people with kidney diseases and certain drug toxicities. These can produce the following signs and symptoms:
- Muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
What are the signs and symptoms of hypokalemia?
What are the functions of potassium in the body?
Potassium plays an important role in the following body functions:
- Maintains fluid and electrolyte balance: The body is made of approximately 60% water, 40% of which is present inside the cells in the intracellular space and hence called the intracellular fluid (ICF). The rest of the fluid is present outside the cells in the extracellular space (for example, the blood) and between the cells. This fluid is also called the extracellular fluid (ECF). The fluid balance between the ICF and ECF is regulated by electrolytes, mainly potassium and sodium. Potassium is the main electrolyte in the ICF and hence regulates the fluid level inside the cells. Sodium is the main electrolyte in the ECF and hence regulates the fluid levels outside the cells. Imbalance in electrolyte levels causes the cells to shrink or swell and burst. Hence, consuming adequate fluids and electrolytes, especially potassium, is essential to maintain organ health.
- Maintains the nervous system: The nervous system relays messages between the brain and body. Potassium ions carry electrical impulses through the nerves to regulate muscle contraction, nerve reflexes, and other body functions. Nerve impulses are generated when the sodium ions enter the cells and the potassium ions exit the cells.
- Regulates muscle contractions including the heart: The process of muscle contraction in the heart and gut muscles requires potassium.
What are the health benefits of potassium?
Consuming a potassium-rich diet is linked to several health benefits:
- Reduction of blood pressure: This is achieved by eliminating excess sodium (excess sodium increases blood pressure).
- Reduction of the risk of stroke: Potassium reduces the risk of stroke.
- Prevention of osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a condition where the bone is porous and easily fractures because of low calcium levels. Potassium reduces the elimination of excess calcium from the body.
- Prevention of kidney stones: Potassium helps lower calcium levels in the urine.
- Reduction of fluid retention: Potassium can reduce fluid retention in the body by increasing urine production.
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