What is Potassium?

So what is Potassium? By mass, at (0.2%) potassium is one of the most abundant elements in the human body.

A typical 60-kg adult has about 120 grams of total potassium in their body.

There is about as much potassium as chlorine and sulfur in the human body; of the primary minerals only phosphorus and calcium are more abundant.

The Chemistry of Potassium

Potassium has the chemical symbol of K and has the atomic number of 19. In 1807, this element was first isolated by Sir Humphry Davy, and it was found to be a soft metal that can be cut by a knife easily. It is generally a metal that is highly reactive and is therefore rarely used by itself. Once combined with other elements such as chloride and sodium, it forms compounds that are mostly used in the industrial world like glass, fertilizer and even soap.

The Role of Potassium in the Body

This element is one of the essential minerals in the body and is needed in keeping the cells, tissues and organs functioning correctly.

Potassium also serves as an electrolyte, a substance that creates electricity in the body; the other electrolytes are calcium, sodium, magnesium, and chloride. It is indispensable mineral in the function of the heart and plays a major role in smooth muscle and skeletal contraction, thus, making it imperative to the muscular and normal digestive functions.

Food High in Potassium

A diet that is well balanced should include food high in potassium with the content based on the recommendations of health experts. Numerous foods contain potassium, in varying amounts, including some types of fish such as cod, flounder and salmon; meats; and several vegetables and fruits.

By consuming grains and citrus fruits, potassium can be easily acquired by vegetarians. Other sources of potassium are dairy products such as milk and yogurt. Almonds, nuts, potatoes, lima beans and poultry also contain considerable amounts of potassium.

One of the most common and high quality sources of this mineral is the banana.

Banana Potassium
Bananas are a rich source of Potassium

Hyperkalemia and Hypokalemia

Hyperkalemia is the result of having high potassium levels in the body; hypokalemia on the other hand, is having low levels of the mineral in the body.

The proper balance of potassium in the body is dependent on the magnesium and sodium amount in the blood. Western diets that involve the usage of too much table salt – sodium chloride – can increase the body’s desire for correct potassium amounts.

Other sources of potassium deficiency include excessive sweating; diarrhea; Crohn’s disease and other malabsorption syndromes; and malnutrition. Usage of loop diuretics, a kind of heart medicine, is also a known cause of potassium deficiency.

Potassium Deficiency Symptoms

It is not desirable in any form to have a nutrient deficiency in the body and potassium is not an exception to this. Potassium deficiency shows mild symptoms such as weakness in muscles and fatigue. More critical deficiency symptoms in the body include having an abnormal heartbeat, inactive reflexes, severe headaches, anemia, and heart palpitations. A person can also suffer from swelling in glands, pain in the intestine, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

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Functions of Potassium

Potassium is unquestionably one of the most essential health nutrients in the body due to the numerous health benefits that it provides the body, thus it is very important to consume foods rich in potassium, some of the functions of potassium include:

  1. Better brain functioning. The potassium channels are mainly responsible for the brain’s electrical conductivity and thus, affect overall brain function. Serious disorders such as epilepsy are generally related to the functions of the potassium channels. Higher brain function such as learning and memory is also involved as key roles for this nutrient.
  2. Muscle disorders.  The majority of potassium ions in the body are located inside the muscle cells, and help in the maintenance of the optimal nerve and muscle functioning. Proper concentration of this mineral is therefore essential  for regular relaxation and contraction of the muscles thus, potassium plays a vital role in regulating muscle contraction.
  3. Low blood sugar level. Decrease of potassium intake and a deficiency of this mineral can result in a huge drop in blood sugar levels and leads to symptoms such as weakness, nervousness, trembling and excessive sweating. Consumption of potassium chloride and sodium can immediately provide soothing relief from this condition.
  4. Cramps.  Hypokalemia, a condition wherein there is a low level of potassium in the blood, results in muscle cramps. Daily intake of bananas helps prevent muscle cramps, as bananas are good sources of potassium content.
  5. Stroke. Since potassium plays a major role in the overall functioning of the brain, it can help to prevent the occurrence of stroke in the human brain. Health professionals found that this dreadful condition is strongly related to having potassium deficiency in the body, as potassium is one of the key holders in helping the brain to work in normal state.
  6. Blood pressure. This nutrient is vital in reversing sodium’s role in any unbalancing of normal blood pressure. Therefore, it generally acts as an essential factor that contributes in the normality of the human body’s blood pressure. This prevents the possibilities of hypertension and heart diseases.
  7.  Nervous system. The boosting of the nervy reflexes spirit to transmit messages from a certain body part to another is aided by potassium. And this can help in the contraction of muscles to perform different daily activities in return.

Find out more about Potassium Rich Foods, and look through the full list of foods containing Potassium.

References and further reading

Banana Photograph by Young in PanamaMedlinePlus; Linus Pauling Institute; Wikipedia; USDA; University of Maryland.