Potassium is an essential mineral needed to regulate blood pressure and balance water and pH levels in the body. It is classified as an electrolyte, which is an important component to the generation of energy within cells and with helping to maintain the stability of cell walls. Electrolytes help to produce electricity, contract muscles and move water and fluids within the body. Potassium works along with sodium to maintain water levels – with potassium working inside the cells and sodium operating outside the cells, in the plasma.

Too little potassium in the body creates a condition known as hypokalemia. Potassium deficiency symptoms may include muscular weakness, nausea and vomiting, changes in mood or temperament, and irregular heartbeat. Severe irregularity in potassium levels can seriously affect kidney function, cause neuromuscular disorders and trigger heart-rhythm irregularities to the point of cardiac arrest.

Potassium deficiency is more frequent among:

· Those taking specific diuretics or birth control pills
· People with physically-challenging occupations
· Athletes
· Those with conditions like Crohn’s disease that affect nutritional absorption
· Smokers
· People with eating disorders

Those who are sensitive to high sodium levels should increase potassium in the diet to protect against hypertension, as an increase in potassium can enhance the amount of sodium expelled from the body. A balanced diet usually supplies all the potassium a person needs. Some foods high in potassium include acorn and butternut squash, potatoes (with the skin), cooked spinach, lentils, kidney beans, split peas, white navy beans, watermelon, raisins, yogurt, and orange juice.

Potassium supplements may be required for those who do not get enough potassium in their daily diet or for people who have lost too much potassium because of illness or treatment with certain medications. Because potassium deficiency is uncommon, there is no RDA or RNI for this mineral. However, 1600 to 2000 mg per day for adults is considered adequate. Potassium supplements are available in tablets, capsules, powders, and effervescent and elixir forms.

Daily intake of potassium should not exceed the recommended amount, unless ordered by a health care provider. Side effects of excessive potassium can include diarrhea, stomach irritation, and nausea. In some instances, too much potassium can cause hyperkalemia, which results in muscle weakness, confusion, labored breathing, or irregular heartbeat. Older adults have a greater risk of hyperkalemia because as one ages, the kidneys are less efficient in the elimination of potassium.

As stated earlier, a balanced diet is usually the best source for the potassium needed to keep the body healthy and in tip-top shape. However, when diet does not supply the required amounts, consider potassium supplements, but only when monitored by your health care provider.

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