Electrolytes such as potassium are minerals that conduct electricity in the body. They’re imperative for maintaining high energy levels and good health, as they carry out a multitude of bodily functions that keep you balanced. Potassium is required for the transport of fluid, amino acids, glucose and minerals in and out of cells. It helps muscles relax and contract, which is why bananas are so often recommended to remedy muscle cramps.
If you don’t get enough potassium, you can experience fatigue, weakness, sugar cravings, heart palpitations, and cramping, in addition to bloating, swollen ankles and other symptoms of fluid retention. Top foods for getting your potassium are avocados, bananas, oranges apricots, pomegranates, coconut water, squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, white beans, and salmon. However, research shows that most people aren’t getting enough dietary potassium, which is why supplementation is recommended.
Prevents Fluid Retention and Protects Your Heart
Potassium works in concert with sodium to regulate your body’s fluid balance. While hydration is a good thing, having too much sodium and not enough potassium means fluid gets stored outside cells in places you don’t want. This causes swollen ankles, belly bloating and heart problems like high blood pressure, heart palpitations, narrowed arteries and poor blood circulation. Getting enough potassium lowers sodium levels and triggers your body to flush out retained fluid.
In a meta-analysis of several studies published in PLoS One, researchers concluded that potassium supplementation is an effective treatment for lowering blood pressure in hypertensive patients. Potassium also regulates your heartbeat and helps prevent abnormal blood clotting, in effect protecting your heart’s health and lowering your risk of cardiac arrest.
Reduces Cellulite Buildup
Fluid retention in the skin due to a lack of potassium causes cellulite. Potassium is needed to flush excess waste from your cells, which result in cellulite when clogged. By eating less salt and getting more potassium, you may see a difference in cellulite on the skin.
Protects Bone Health
Studies have linked increased potassium intake with improved bone density. Potassium reduces the excretion of calcium through urine, helping your bones preserve vital mineral content. In one study, seniors without osteoporosis supplemented with calcium, vitamin D and potassium citrate daily for two years. At the end of the study, researchers found the participants had increased bone density and improved bone microarchitecture, resulting in a lower risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture.
Reduces Muscle Cramping
Potassium deficiency easily results in muscle weakness, aches and cramps during and after exercise. It’s important for athletes and highly active people to get enough calcium to keep up their muscular strength and avoid cramps since the more you use your muscles, the more potassium you need. Boosting potassium intake also benefits women during menstruation by reducing cramping.
Prevents Kidney Stones
Potassium stimulates your kidneys to remove waste, which is why higher potassium intakes are associated with lower risk for kidney stone formation. Research shows that people with kidney stones eat more salt and less potassium, causing an imbalance in kidney function. Because potassium prevents the excretion of calcium through urine, insufficient potassium levels can mean too much calcium is passing through the kidneys, resulting in calcium deposits that lead to painful kidney stones.
A 2009 study looked at eight older adults who had kidney stones and tested potassium citrate and potassium bicarbonate as potential treatments. After six weeks of potassium supplementation, three patients were free of kidney stones. After six months of supplementation, the remaining five patients had been completely cured. The researchers concluded that potassium supplements are an effective treatment for kidney stones.
Improves Metabolism and Muscular Growth
Potassium plays a role in helping your body utilize the carbohydrates, fats, and protein you get from food. It’s required for breaking down carbohydrates into usable energy, synthesizing protein, cell growth, tissue regeneration, and building muscle. Potassium stimulates cell growth and ensures cells have the metabolic energy to grow. By keeping muscles healthy and strong, potassium makes exercise and hence muscle growth possible.
In a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 384 older adults either supplemented with potassium, calcium and vitamin D or took a placebo for three years. By the end, seniors who took potassium (5,266 mg per day) maintained an average of 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass compared to the placebo group.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
If you suffer from chronic stress or any type of anxiety, you may benefit from potassium supplementation. Potassium is a stress buster that also fights lethargy and boosts mental performance. It helps regulate cortisol and adrenaline, which are stress hormones that can cause mood disorders when out of balance.
One study on depression found that depressed persons had lower levels of potassium. In a clinical trial on the relationship between electrolytes and mood, researchers put 94 men and women participants on a low sodium, high potassium, high calcium diet. They found that cortisol levels were lowered, while mood improved and fatigue subsided.
Getting Your Potassium
Adults require 4,700 mg of potassium daily. However, potassium deficiency is extremely common, with fewer than 2 percent of Americans getting enough of it. According to Harvard Health, the average American gets just 2,500 mg of potassium a day, whereas our paleolithic ancestors had as much as 11,000 mg per day. High sodium levels in the American diet also contributes to low potassium. When there’s too much sodium in the body, the kidneys work to flush it out. However, they also excrete potassium in the process. Getting more potassium and less sodium can help correct health imbalances many people suffer from today. All you need to do is swap saltier options for potassium-rich foods, and take a potassium supplement.
On the other hand, too much potassium can be harmful. Overdose won’t occur when your potassium comes from food, but certain potassium supplements, including potassium chloride, can result in toxicity in high amounts. Be sure to follow the dosage instructions on the product label when taking supplements, or consult with a health professional.
Potassium is an electrolyte important for countering the effects of sodium and maintaining a healthy amount of alkalinity in the body. It’s also involved in regulating the heart and other muscles, as well as your metabolism. Without enough potassium, bones and muscles can become weak, and you may experience fatigue or more serious health problems. While most people are deficient in potassium, it’s easily corrected through supplementation, diet and reducing your sodium intake.