The mineral potassium occurs predominantly in the interior of body cells and is responsible for the regulation of the water balance. In addition, potassium plays a central role in the transmission of stimuli along a nerve. This important mineral is also involved in muscle activity and regulates a person's blood pressure. As a component of digestive juices, potassium plays a crucial role in the gastrointestinal tract and energy production.
Importance of potassium for the body
Probably the most important role is played by potassium in the transmission of electrical impulses to muscle or nerve cells. The potassium level is strictly regulated by the body. If the potassium level is too high or too low, muscular dysfunction may occur.
Together with sodium, potassium is also responsible for the activity of the heart muscle. A balanced sodium and potassium balance is important. The more sodium absorbed, the more potassium the body excretes. Another important task of potassium is to maintain the osmotic pressure in the cells and thus to regulate the fluid balance in the body.
Potassium in food
Since potassium is present in most foods, the daily requirement for potassium is usually met with a normal, well-balanced diet. Whole grains, potatoes, bananas, spinach, lettuce, avocados and nuts are especially rich in potassium. Both men and women have a daily potassium requirement of about 2000 mg. This daily dose of potassium is included in some foods.
These foods include:
- 150 g of wheat bran
- 150 g of beans
- 300 g of spinach
- 400 g mushrooms
- 500 g of fish
- 500 g of vegetables
Potassium deficiency symptoms
Potassium is present in virtually all foods, which is why in healthy people hardly deficiency symptoms can occur. However, severe diarrhea, the use of laxatives and water-repellents (diuretics) and excessive consumption of licorice or salt may result in potassium deficiency. The symptoms of potassium deficiency may be muscle paralysis, constipation, and cardiac conduction disorders.
As a rule, a potassium deficiency can be quickly compensated by consuming it before food containing a lot of potassium. On the other hand, potassium supplements such as tablets or capsules should only be taken on medical advice, as otherwise a dangerous excess of potassium can quickly develop.
Potassium: overdose and excess
Acidification or renal insufficiency can lead to life-threatening hyperkalaemia (potassium overdose). Also blood transfusions, burns, infections or kidney diseases are often the cause of a potassium excess in the body. There is a risk of cardiac arrhythmias to ventricular fibrillation.
Other symptoms of potassium overdose include diarrhea, fatigue, headache, muscle weakness and cramping. Since potassium stimulates the kidneys to produce urine, an excess can lead to increased urination.