potassium

Potassium is silvery white and soft alkali metal. It was first isolated from ashes of plant and called potash. Derived from potash it is called potassium. It is one of the 118 chemical elements and is a highly reactive metal in isolated form. Because of this, it has to be handled with care avoiding contact with the eyes and skin.

Sources

Potassium is abundantly available in the earth crust as various salts only. It is the seventh most available mineral in the crust. It is also present in seawater. Even though it was identified initially by scientists only from potash of plant origin, its presence in plants is insignificant.

Accordingly, potassium is sourced only from potassium salts present in earth and sea. Elemental form of potassium is not readily available from earth as it reacts speedily with water and oxygen to form chlorides and oxides. The solubility of potassium ore excavated from earth ranges from least solubility to high solubility.

Potassium compounds are mainly mined from seabed and lake bottoms, where it is commercially viable to mine. The presence in normal seawater is very low and is not a commercial source.

Major countries where potassium salts are mined include Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, United States, Israel, and Jordon. It is also mined in several other countries.

Effects of Potassium in human body

Level of potassium in the body influences a number of physiological processes.

  • Potassium is essential for normal transmission of cells. Hence deficiency or excess of potassium is harmful to health and have the potential to cause a number of health disorders. Particularly it creates abnormalities in the heart rhythm and electrocardiography.

 

Potassium for commercial purposes is sourced from mining various deposits of potassium compounds. But the normal human requirement of potassium can be met from dietary sources.

Dietary sources of potassium

  • Dietary sources of potassium are many. It is present in most of the fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat. High concentration of potassium is present in parsley, dry apricots, pistachios, potatoes, bananas, plantains, avocados, spinach, pomegranate coconut water, soybean and many other such food items. Sweet potatoes, frozen spinach, watermelon, and yogurt are also good sources of potassium.
  • Potassium is also present in milk. Skimmed and non–fat milk contain more potassium then raw milk.

 

How to find presence of potassium?

Presence of potassium can be easily detected by tasting. Dilute solutions of potassium taste sweet, concentrated solutions taste bitter or alkaline and extreme concentrations taste salty.

How much Potassium is required for a human body?

Adequate intake of potassium is essential for human health. It is prescribed that men or women of age 14 years and above require about 4700mg of potassium intake per day. In the case of pregnant women, the recommended quantity is 5100mg.  For children, lesser quantities are prescribed gradually increasing the quantity based on their ages.

Significance of potassium

Potassium is an electrolyte. An electrolyte is a substance which produces an electrically conducting solution when dissolved in any polar solvent like water. The electrolyte can be broadly understood as a minute chemical required by the cells of the body to function properly.

Calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and chloride are the major electrolytes (generally called lytes) required by the body and the inadequate quantity of any of these electrolytes or the excess of them cause many health hazards. Electrolytes are essential to regulate hydration and to maintain the pH level of blood. It is also critical for the functioning of the nerves and muscles.

Such electrolytes are present in the body, in blood, urine, and sweat. It usually works in combination with sodium, magnesium, and calcium for the overall well-being of the body.

Each of the electrolytes performs a different function to protect the body.  Unlike other electrolytes, Potassium is produced by the body from the diet and it is not all the time necessary to take supplements. Deficiency in this substance leads to a number of health disorders.

Symptoms of potassium deficiency or consequences of inadequate intake can lead to various health hazards like

  • Paralysis and acute muscle weakness
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Pain in the muscles throughout the body
  • The unexplained discomfiture of the body and fatigue
  • Strain in the bowel movement leading to constipation
  • Numbness in the legs, hands etc. and itching sensation
  • Frequently occurring muscle spasms and joint pains
  • Painful obstructions of the intestines.
  • Bloating, cramps in the abdomen, nausea
  • Depression, anxiety or abnormal psychological behavior
  • Restlessness and insomnia
  • Abnormal blood pressure and palpitations

 

Heath benefits of Potassium

Potassium is a vital electrolyte needed for a healthy body. It provides a lot of health benefits.

  • It regulates the blood pressure in addition to balancing the acids and bases in the body. It also regulates the contractions of the heart and functions of the muscle. It dilates the blood vessels and prevents hypertension.
  • Another important benefit of potassium is that it facilitates normal functioning of the brain. Potassium increases the flow of oxygen to the brain which is required for normal neural activity and cognitive functions. Cognition is the process by which the mind and intellect of the organism of the body obtain cumulative information otherwise called knowledge. It would be interesting to note here that banana is admired as a brain food due to the high content of potassium in it.
  • Potassium has the potential to boost memory power and enhance the learning capacity of individuals. As a corollary, inadequate potassium causes memory loss and hurt the ability to learn. Transmission of information in neuron cells takes place by the electrolytes sodium and potassium.
  • We know that muscle movement is essential to move the body and deficiency in this metal causes difficulty in muscle movement or sometimes makes it impossible. Contraction, as well as relaxation of the muscle, is possible only with the presence of potassium in the body. In fact, most of the metal ions in the body are present only in the muscles. Consumption of highly acidifying diet excretes nitrogen from the body in addition to wasting of muscles.
  • Bone strength, as well as density, is also enhanced by this metal. Absorption of vitamin D and calcium in the body is facilitated by the presence of potassium.
  • Excretion of calcium and acids in urine is significantly prevented by the good amount of potassium intake. Potassium consumed in dietary form (not as supplements) enables bones to retain minerals without reabsorbing acids.
  • Metabolic acidosis is responsible for this. Moreover, acidosis causes loss of bone density and diabetic ketosis. (Ketosis is the process by which fat in the body is burnt in the absence of energy in the form of sugar thereby producing more acids). It is here that potassium works to maintain an alkaline environment in the body and prevent muscle wasting.
  • Metabolism of other nutrients and minerals is aided by potassium in the body. It aids protein synthesis essential for regeneration of tissues and growth of cells.
  • Lower intake of potassium causes high blood pressure and consequent cardiovascular problems. Like maintaining a low sodium level for maintaining lower blood pressure, a good intake of potassium is equally important in combating high blood pressure.
  • By balancing the blood pressure level, potassium help reduces heart ailments. Moreover, by acting as a vasodilator it keeps the blood vessels relaxed throughout the body preventing possible heart disorders.
  • It prevents erratic increase or decrease in blood sugar level. This is more relevant in the case of diabetics as they need to keep their blood sugar level balanced all the time.
  • It plays a significant role in maintaining an optimum fluid level in the body. Maintaining appropriate fluid levels prevents a number of health disorders. In the process of maintaining fluid levels potassium also keep the water balance at the desired level preventing dehydration. For this reason, only athletes are advised to consume bananas after working out in order to balance the water level.
  • Absorption of calcium in the gut wall is reduced by the presence of enough potassium. Such non- accumulation of calcium prevents the formation of kidney stones.
  • It can prevent the formation of cellulite. Lumps and dimples appearing on the skin are called cellulite. With its ability to balance water and other fluids in the body, it prevents the appearance of cellulite.
  • When hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are produced excessively the body experiences stress, Potassium is considered a stress reliever by regulating these hormones to the required level.
  • It also balances the pH level of the skin and prevents cracking of the skin in addition to helping the growth of new cells. It keeps the skin hydrated and glowing doing away with the need to use skin care products.
  • Adequate intake can reduce hair fall. One of the reasons for hair fall is stress. It is a stress reliever and increases hair growth.

 

It must be ensured that intake of the subatance is just adequate and not less or more. For maintaining a healthy body, one must optimize the intake and minimize sodium intake. The dietary form is preferable to supplements. Consuming supplements without appropriate medical advice is detrimental and bound to create unforeseen health disorders. This is more so in case of persons who already have disorders or ailments in the heart or kidney. Oral or intravenous methods of potassium must be on doctor’s advice.

Kidneys generally excrete the excess quantity in a normal person. But in case of persons with kidney problems, excretion is lesser causing excess amount in the body which in turn aggravates the disorders.

A simple blood test will indicate the potassium level. Efforts must be made to balance the level by dietary changes as far as possible. The overdose of the substance is dangerous for people with diabetes, kidney and heart problems. High potassium level can cause muscle weakness.

Kripa Sivasubramanian, MBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. After a long stint in the Technology sector, she took up courses in natural medicine and yoga. Ms. Kripa is certified in Ayurvedic yoga for Dosha. She is also certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.