Potassium: Benefits, Sources, Deficiency

Potassium is an electrolyte that serves as an essential nutrient in the human body. It is essential in order to ensure that the body is functioning at its best – as it is required to regulate several important processes. 

The element was first discovered and isolated in the year 1807, but its uses and importance in the human body were only discovered later. The mineral is especially crucial for the functioning of the nervous system.

Benefits of Potassium

To begin with, potassium is necessary for the function of the nervous system – as it plays an important role in the neuron.

By influencing and regulating the osmotic balance between neurons and the fluids surrounding them, they allow for the transmission of electrical messages. (The mechanism involved is referred to as the Sodium-Potassium pump.) 

Apart from this, potassium is involved in ensuring the occurrence of specific actions after an action potential is fired. 

As an electrolyte responsible for maintaining fluid balance in the body, potassium is needed in order to regulate the levels of certain minerals and fluid products in the body. It acts as a regulator through the kidney.

Apart from this, it also provides an additional benefit to the kidney by means of reducing the risk of kidney stone formation.

Studies conducted regarding the cardiovascular effects of potassium have indicated that it lowers blood pressure. As hypertension is a major factor associated with heart disease, potassium certainly contributes to heart health – and does so possibly by regulating the levels of sodium in the body. 

It also helps with controlling the electrical activity of the heart. Other benefits that potassium provides include regulation of muscle contraction (which means that adequate levels of potassium in your body can help prevent cramps), and increasing bone health.

Potassium aids the bones by neutralizing certain acids that tend to retain calcium and do not allow it to reach the bones for optimum use. 

By ensuring that muscle growth is proper and thorough regulating metabolic pathways (specifically those involving carbohydrates and fats), potassium improves the overall strength and effectiveness of muscles. 

Not only this, the mineral can also help you deal with stress and anxiety in a much better manner – this is because it regulates the levels of certain hormones, and thus, can restore the balance in order to ensure normal mental functioning (5).

 

Sources of Potassium

Potassium forms a part of the essential nutrients – and hence, you must make sure you get your daily intake of the mineral. 

There are various foods that are rich in potassium including fruits such as bananas, papayas and black plum. 

Vegetable sources include mushrooms, kale, radish and green leafy vegetables like spinach. Apart from this, dry fruits such as raisins and apricots also contain high levels of potassium.

Animal sources of the nutrient include fish and most types of meat (poultry, red meat), apart from yoghurt and milk. Potassium can also be available in the form of supplements. 

These are usually advised for those individuals who are suffering from a deficiency and need a boost in order for their mineral levels to reach adequate levels.

Deficiencies of Potassium

Potassium deficiency can lead to a variety of problems – as it is required for various muscles to function at their best, and is necessary for the regulation of blood pressure. 

Apart from this, adverse effects are felt at the cellular level too. You must note that low potassium levels need not necessarily be a result of inadequate consumption – they may also be a result of conditions such as diarrhoea and dehydration.

Symptoms that characterize low levels of potassium are a sense of fatigue (which can extend to cramping in the muscles of the limbs), cramping in other parts – such as abdominal cramping, constipation, low blood pressure, nausea, a sense of numbness in some part of the body, feeling thirsty more often than usual. 

In some cases, it may also lead to certain psychological symptoms. In other severe cases, it may also lead to disorders related to the adrenal gland and the kidneys.

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