Around one in two adults suffer from a potassium deficiency or hypokalemia. Often, this condition lies behind persistent feelings of fatigue and confusion, which are mistakenly blamed on the stresses of modern life. This article explains the symptoms to watch out for and offers advice on how to deal with a suspected deficiency.
If like many people, you often feel a little below your best and lacking in energy, you may simply put it down to the stresses of modern life. Who can honestly say they get enough sleep through the week and can totally switch off from their daily problems and demands? However, if you can’t shake your tiredness and you constantly feel on the verge of illness, there could be another problem, which is thankfully relatively straightforward to deal with.
Around half of adults have a condition called hypokalemia, or to put it more simply, a potassium deficiency. This nutritional imbalance can explain many of the minor ailments and niggles that are so commonly put down to stress and busy lifestyles. But how can you tell if you’re not getting enough potassium in your daily diet? Here are the telltale signs to watch out for.
Fatigue and Weakness
Potassium is essential for the proper functioning of every cell in the human body. If you have a deficiency, the first sign is often a persistent sense of tiredness, which doesn’t seem to respond to resting. This is because, without potassium, your cells aren’t functioning as smoothly as they should, leaving you feeling generally weak and fatigued.
In more severe cases, this sense of fatigue can lead to mental confusion and foggy thinking. While this is easily mistaken for normal, albeit extreme fatigue, with hypokalemia, the confusion isn’t cleared by any amount of rest. In the longer term, a potassium deficiency can lead to deeper mental problems such as depression and even hallucinations.
Potassium is a key mineral for nerve function, and a lack of it can lead to misfiring signals. This is most often felt as numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes.
With a severe potassium deficiency, these tingling sensations can progress to muscle pain or even cramps.
A lack of potassium can also disrupt the muscles of the digestive system, reducing its effectiveness and leading to constipation and bloating.
Lastly, a dangerously low potassium level can affect the heart’s rhythm, causing palpitations, the sensation of missed heartbeats, and feelings of faintness. This can be dangerous if combined with an underlying condition, and you should always seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms.
How to Treat a Potassium Deficiency
Potassium supplements are widely available but don’t simply start taking them without checking first with your doctor. Having raised levels of potassium can be even more dangerous than a deficiency, causing many of the same symptoms but with a real risk of heart failure. Because of this, you should always get a formal diagnosis of hypokalemia before taking supplements.
However, if you suspect you have a deficiency, there’s no harm in upping the amount of potassium you consume in ordinary foods. Unless you have kidney problems, your body will easily cope with any excess potassium caused by eating foods with natural levels of the mineral.
Excellent dietary sources of potassium include:
– Baked potatoes, including skins
Potassium is one of the essential minerals the body requires to work correctly at the cellular level, but thanks to modern diets and lifestyles, around half of the adults don’t consume enough of it. If you notice the telltale symptoms, try increasing your dietary intake or consult your doctor for a hypokalemia diagnosis.