Originally published February 5, 2008
Could You be Deficient in Potassium?
by Polly A. Wise
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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
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.
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
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
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