We may only think of potassium in the context of bananas because we know these fun yellow fruits have a lot of it. But what exactly does this nutrient do for us and how do we know if we don’t have enough?
Potassium is one of the electrolyte minerals, along with magnesium, calcium, sodium, chloride, and hydrogen phosphate (1). Electrolytes are responsible for conducting electricity through the body. Potassium is a positive ion that regulates heartbeat and muscle function and is present in every cell in the body.
Left untreated, potassium deficiency can cause a host of other health problems.
Potassium and sodium work inversely in the body: the more sodium (a neutral atom) in the body, the less potassium. Conversely, the more potassium, the less sodium.
Sodium (salt) is necessary for normal cell function, too, but we’ve been warned about the negative effects of too much sodium due to its influence on increasing blood pressure and other potentially dangerous consequences.
In the body, potassium (2):
- builds proteins and muscle
- breaks down and consumes carbohydrates
- regulates body growth
- regulates heartbeat
- moderates pH levels
- promotes digestion.
Causes of potassium deficiency may be as simple as not eating enough of the right foods (or eating too many high-salt foods).
Physical conditions that can contribute to low potassium include (3):
- kidney disease
- taking diuretics
- dehydration due to excessive perspiration, diarrhea, or vomiting
- magnesium deficiency
- antibiotic use
Since potassium is so important, it’s good to recognize the symptoms of potassium deficiency to get your mineral levels back to what they should be.