Originally published February 5, 2008
Could You be Deficient in Potassium?
by Polly A. Wise
(NaturalNews) If you suffer from anxiety, depression, insomnia, constipation, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney stones, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, obesity, headaches, pain in the eyes, muscle spasms, “restless leg syndrome,” fatigue, or muscle tension, to name a few, you may be deficient in potassium.
Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body. It is also an electrolyte that regulates blood pressure, water retention, muscle activity, and proper function of every cell in your body. Potassium helps the cells in the body eliminate toxic waste, promotes balanced pH levels, and increases energy.
It is important to note that the FDA limits over-the-counter potassium supplements to 99 mg per serving. This amounts to 2.8% of the FDA’s own recommended daily allowance. In addition, the FDA recommended daily allowances for most supplements are widely recognized as being too low.
Supposedly this limit is due to concern over potassium overdose. As you will read further in this article, there is not much reason for this concern. However, the FDA does freely allow medications that deplete potassium to be sold.
You will have to come to your own conclusion on these clear discrepancies. This is just one more reason why each of us needs to take our health into our own hands. It is wise to do necessary research to keep yourself healthy, rather than be forced to research in a panic once you discover first hand how little the main stream medical profession has to offer.
More often than not, doctors just guess through a process of elimination (I actually had an emergency room physician admit this to me). We know our bodies better than anyone. Please do your own research and follow your own wisdom. There is no way you could do worse than what we currently have offered to us through modern medicine.
Potassium does not work independently. There is a strong relationship between potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Maintaining a balance between these four minerals is crucial to good health. The best way to do this is to increase the overall level of mineral intake in the diet through raw foods.
Due to the typical American diet being high in sodium, it is best to increase the amount of foods high in potassium in your diet. If you have a high sodium intake, and are not eating a balanced diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables, you may also want to take a potassium supplement.
Causes of Potassium Deficiency
There are many factors that can affect the imbalance and deficiency of potassium in the body. These include diet, sodium/potassium ratio in the body, stress, excessive consumption of licorice, and several medications.
Eating a diet of mostly processed foods or foods that have been excessively cooked, results in low potassium intake. Fad diets also play a contributing factor in potassium deficiency.
According to the Eck Institute, “Many people assume that a high sodium/potassium ratio indicates an excessive salt intake. While possibly true, in many instances salt eating has little impact upon the sodium/potassium ratio. A high ratio frequently occurs in people who consume no salt whatsoever! The main causes of a high sodium/potassium ratio are excessive aldosterone secretion due to stress or anger, toxic metals or a zinc and magnesium deficiency. Salt-eating plays a secondary role.”(1)
They recommend avoiding table salt because it is a poor quality food. It is best to eat only unrefined pure sea salt which naturally contains minerals. It is not necessary to eliminate all salt from your diet, but rather eat reasonable amounts of high quality sea salt.
It turns out that excessive consumption of licorice can cause potassium deficiency. Not only do some people consume too much licorice, but licorice is also used medicinally to treat tuberculosis, gastritis, hepatitis, and dermatitis. Anyone being treated for these conditions may want to consider taking a potassium supplement.
It is important that anyone with a health condition related to potassium deficiency eliminate the consumption of licorice from their diet. Because hyperthyroidism can cause potassium deficiency, anyone with thyroid disease should not eat licorice as well.
Not only does the lack of potassium in our diet affect many health conditions, but several medications being used to treat certain “diseases” are actually causing potassium deficiency. Examples include: diuretics, laxatives, cortisone, aspirin, cardiac drugs, steroids, and certain therapies used to treat advanced liver disease.
Effects of Potassium Deficiency
There is a correlation between potassium deficiency and anxiety, irritability, anger, and depression. Lack of potassium may also play a role in insomnia, constipation, and too much acidity in the body.
Since lack of potassium may cause edema, it is possible it plays a role in chronic headaches, pain in the eyes, hypertension, and the rapid increase in body weight in those with hyperthyroidism. Potassium helps to regulate blood pressure, and more specifically lowers blood pressure. Getting enough potassium in your diet could be very helpful in preventing and treating heart disease, as well as preventing a stroke for those with heart disease.
A potassium deficiency can lead to lowered urine citrate, which in turn can lead to kidney stones. Some medical experts believe that potassium deficiency may either cause or make worse rheumatoid arthritis. Sufficient amounts of potassium in the diet may also protect you against hypoglycemia and obesity.
Potassium is stored in the muscles and controls both voluntary and involuntary muscles in the body. Therefore, low potassium in the diet contributes to muscle spasms and twitches, muscle fatigue, leg cramps, and “restless leg syndrome.”
What to Do
The best way to increase potassium in the body is through diet. Some foods rich in potassium include: bananas, potatoes (baked with skin), prunes, oranges, peaches, tomatoes, raisins, artichokes, lima beans, acorn squash, spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds, molasses, cantaloupe, salmon, and chicken.
According to Dr. Jane Higdon, of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, “There is considerable evidence that a diet supplying at least 4700 mg/day of potassium is associated with decreased risk of stroke, hypertension, osteoporosis, and kidney stones. Fruits and vegetables are among the richest sources of dietary potassium, and a large body of evidence supports the association of increased fruit, vegetable, and nut intakes with reduced risk of chronic disease.”(2)
While quite rare, it is possible to overdose on potassium with potentially fatal consequences. Again it is rare, and when it does occur, it is usually caused by underlying medical conditions. Therefore, if you have any of the conditions mentioned in this article or are currently on medication, I strongly encourage you to do further research on potassium deficiency as it relates to your specific condition. Also, it is crucial that you see a natural health care practitioner to help you safely implement more potassium into your diet.
Healthline.com states, “Although there is no established safe upper limit, potassium toxicity appears to develop with an intake of approximately 18,000 mgs and may lead to cardiac arrest.”(3) Considering this information, you can see that, while possible, it would be very difficult to overdose on potassium.
Points to Remember
The main point to keep in mind is the total amount of potassium needed in the diet per day, which is at least 4700 mg. Because the sodium intake in the typical American diet is high, ensuring you get enough potassium is very important. While it is best to increase potassium through your diet, supplementation may be necessary to reach adequate amounts.
The link below (in Reference #2), provides some good information regarding potassium, including a chart that contains the amount of potassium found in various foods. This could be very helpful in calculating your daily potassium intake.
While the FDA limit on Potassium supplements is just 99 mg per serving, don’t let this discourage you from taking these supplements. Increasing Potassium by any amount can greatly increase the quality of your life.
About the author
Polly Wise is a Freelance Writer living in Tucson, AZ with her husband Michael. She has three grown children and five grandchildren. Polly has a degree in Social Sciences and has several years experience as a Technical Writer for the automobile emissions control industry. She writes articles for print magazines and the internet on a wide range of topics including: health, nutrition, relationships, current events, travel, book reviews, product reviews and more. Polly can be reached by email.
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