When it comes to minerals, potassium doesn’t get much attention. The focus is usually on nutrients like iron and calcium. But when your body needs potassium to function, shouldn’t it be a priority? Learning how to recognize and treat potassium deficiency can be a game changer.
Potassium has a wide range of responsibilities. It regulates nerve function, muscle contraction, and heartbeat. Nutrients move into cells – while waste moves out – thanks to potassium.1 It’s especially important for blood pressure, as it dulls the impact of sodium. A potassium-rich diet can fight hypertension, a major risk factor of heart disease, the leading cause of death in America.2 3 Clearly, potassium is one important mineral.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t meet the daily recommendation of 4,700 milligrams. Adult American men get about 3,100 milligrams day, while women only get 2,300 milligrams a day. 4 Without enough potassium, there’s a greater risk for hypertension, heart disease, low bone-mineral density, and chronic kidney stones.5
Keep an eye out for these signs potassium deficiency, also known as hypokalemia. Visit the doctor if any of these sound familiar. Deficiency is life-threatening, so it’s crucial to take it seriously.
Signs Of Potassium Deficiency
For most people, symptoms are hard to notice. The signs are usually stronger in the elderly. Deficiency is more common if you’ve been hospitalized, have a heart condition, or are taking diuretics. 6
1. Muscle Weakness And Cramps
Does your body feels like jelly? Pay attention. Potassium is needed for normal, healthy muscle contractions. Weakness or spasms may be a sign that you’re not getting enough.
If you can’t seem to do number two, low potassium might be at play. Bowel movements may be painful or difficult to pass. Sometimes, constipation may also cause bloating and general discomfort.
Don’t forget that fiber is the best nutrient for preventing constipation. Before assuming you have a potassium deficiency, observe your fiber intake. 7
3. Abnormal Heart Rhythm
Take note of skipped heart beats or palpitations, also known as cardiac arrhythmia. Potassium is needed to regulate heartbeat. 8 A low level will throw off the concentrations in and out of the cells, causing abnormal heartbeats. 9
Fatigue may point to potassium deficiency. 10 However, tiredness has many causes, so look at your lifestyle first. Note your recent sleeping habits and stress levels.
If you have fatigue plus other symptoms, get a blood test to rule out potassium deficiency.
How To Treat Potassium Deficiency
1. Get A Blood Test
Before anything else, get a proper blood test done. This is the only way you’ll know! Otherwise, the following steps may increase your risk for potassium toxicity.
2.Eat Potassium-Rich Foods
Fruits and veggies are the best sources of potassium. Half a cup of prunes has 637 milligrams, while one banana has 422 milligrams. Tomato juice, raisins, lima beans, and acorn squash are also rich sources.
3.Take Potassium Supplements
A single multi-vitamin supplement usually doesn’t have more than 99 milligrams of potassium. With your doctor’s OK, take separate potassium supplements. Be sure to follow his or her instructions, as taking too much is risky.
Depending on the severity, your doctor might prescribe potassium-sparing agents. These drugs help your kidneys preserve potassium. If you’re already at risk for deficiency, ask your doctor how you can prevent it before it starts. 11
|↑1, ↑8, ↑10||Potassium. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑2||A Primer On Potassium. American Heart Association.|
|↑3||Heart Disease Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑4, ↑11||Potassium. Oregon State University.|
|↑5||World Health Organization. Guideline: potassium intake for adults and children. World Health Organization, 2012.|
|↑6||Elliott, TL. “Electrolytes: Potassium Disorders.” FP Essentials 459 (2017): 21-28.|
|↑7||Symptoms & Causes of Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑9||Lüderitz, B. “Potassium deficiency and cardiac function: experimental and clinical aspects.” Magnesium 3, no. 4-6 (1984): 289-300. 289-300.|