Week 56 Tip: The Health Benefits of the Right Amount of Potassium

By: Carla Meine CFNC

| January 19, 2023

Welcome back to More Than Healthy as we continue to share our weekly health tips. This week we’re talking about Tip #56, the health benefits of the right amount of potassium. Potassium is a highly underestimated mineral and one that I see deficient in several of my clients. In fact, less than 2% of Americans meet the US recommendations for potassium.

Potassium is so important to our health that we need to make sure we are getting adequate amounts. As I’ve explained in other posts, before I had the hair analysis to work with, I would have to count on symptoms manifesting themselves to know if someone was deficient in potassium. And even then, it was trial and error, based on my best educational guess. Now, however, we not only can know exactly who is deficient in potassium, but also how much they are deficient, and we can work together to get them to a healthy level. 

Symptoms of low potassium

Low potassium levels, a condition called hypokalemia, is fairly common. Mild hypokalemia is found in 14% of all outpatient labs. Severe hypokalemia is dangerous and can even be life-threatening. 

There are many symptoms of low potassium. The most obvious include weakness, feeling tired, muscle cramps (that’s the one I suffered with), confusion, constipation, abnormal heart rhythm, tingling or numbness, or increased urination. Someone with dangerously low levels of potassium can experience decreased brain function, high blood sugar levels, muscle paralysis, difficulty breathing, and irregular heartbeat.

The good news is that with hair analysis, we can sometimes catch low potassium before these symptoms even manifest. And, knowing if someone is low, I can feel good about first recommending foods that are high in potassium to my clients, and if someone is really deficient, then I can recommend supplements until they get to sufficiency.

Potassium: Essential for the body

Potassium is an essential mineral that is needed by all tissues in the body. In fact, it is the third most abundant mineral in the body, preceded only by calcium and phosphorus. Roughly 98% of the potassium in your body is found in your cells. Of this, 80% is found in your muscle cells, while the other 20% can be found in your bones, liver, and red blood cells.  

Potassium is sometimes referred to as an electrolyte because it carries a small electrical charge and produces positively-charged ions. This allows it to conduct electricity, which activates various cell and nerve functions throughout the body. It helps regulate fluid, send nerve signals and regulate muscle contractions. Its main role in the body is to help maintain normal levels of fluid inside our cells. Sodium, potassium’s counterpart, (lots more on this important mineral in a previous post, here), maintains normal fluid levels outside of cells. 

Potassium-rich foods

Potassium is found naturally in many foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. Other sources include leafy greens, beans, nuts, dairy foods, and starchy vegetables like winter squash. Bananas are my favorite source of potassium, and they make the perfect pre-match (or between-match) snack on Pickleball days. A medium banana provides about 9% of the DV of potassium

That’s a pretty good punch of potassium.

But here is a list of foods that are even higher in potassium than that yummy banana:

Avocado One avocado provides 15% of the DV for potassium.
Sweet potatoes  1 cup of mashed sweet potato has 16% of the DV for potassium.
Spinach 1 cup of frozen spinach has 12% of the DV for potassium.
Watermelon 2 wedges provide 14$ of the DV for potassium.
Coconut water 1 cup contains 13% of the DV for potassium.
Beans 1 cup of white beans provides 21% of the DV for potassium.
Legumes 1 cup of lentils = 15% 

1 cup of chickpeas = 10%

1 cup of soybeans = 19%

1 cup of peanuts = 23% of the DV for potassium.

Tomato paste 3 tablespoons contain more than 10$ of the DV for potassium.
Butternut squash 1 cup provides 12% of the DV for potassium.
Potatoes One medium potato has 12% of the DV for potassium.
Dried apricots Half a cup provides 16% of the DV for potassium.
Swiss chard 1 cup of cooked chard provides 20% of the DV for potassium.
Beets 1 cup of boiled beets has 11% of the DV for potassium.
Pomegranate One pomegranate gives 14% of the DV for potassium.
Citrus juice 1 cup of orange juice = 10% of the DV for potassium.

1 cup of grapefruit juice = 9% of the DV for potassium.

Fish Half a fillet of cod = 12% 

One fillet of haddock = 11% 

Half a fillet of salmon = 21%

Half a fillet of tuna = 17% of the DV for potassium.

Yams 1 cooked, cubed cup provides 19% of the DV for potassium.

 

With potassium found in so many foods, we should be able to maintain healthy levels through a healthy diet. However, potassium is lost through stool and sweat. So, if you’re not eating enough of these foods, and then combine that with heavy sweating, diuretic use, laxative use, or have nausea or vomiting, it can quickly lead to hypokalemia. Low potassium levels are also common for people with IBS (inflammatory bowel disease) and sister conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as these cause diarrhea and malabsorption of nutrients.

Five health benefits of the right amount of potassium

Let’s talk about five important health benefits of the right amount of potassium. We’ve experienced these benefits ourselves as we got our own potassium up to healthy levels, and we’ve seen these with our clients as well.  

Benefit #1: Potassium helps regulate fluid balance

I’ve shared quite a bit about my struggle with leg cramps. It used to be very common for me to be jolted out of sleep with debilitating leg cramp pain after a tournament, or even after a day when I’d played really hard. I tried to manage them with stretching and drinking lots of water, but it wasn’t until I got my potassium, salt, and magnesium balanced in the proper amounts that I saw them completely go away. 

A bit about cell biology

Our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water, and 40% of that water is found inside your cells in a substance called intracellular fluid, or ICF. The remainder is found outside your cells in areas such as your blood, spinal fluid, and between cells. It’s called the extracellular fluid, or ECF. The amount of water in the ICF and ECF is affected by their concentration of electrolytes, especially potassium and sodium. 

Potassium is the main electrolyte in the ICF, and it determines the amount of water inside the cells. Conversely, sodium is the main electrolyte in the ECF and it determines the amount of water outside the cells. The number of electrolytes relative to the amount of fluid is called osmolality. When all is healthy and well, the osmolality is the same inside and outside your cells. However, when osmolality is unequal, water from the side with fewer electrolytes will move into the side with more electrolytes to equalize the electrolyte concentrations. 

In other words, there’s an equal balance of electrolytes outside and inside your cells. This may cause cells to shrink as water moves out of them or swell up and burst as water moves into them. When they are out of balance, a common problem is dehydration. This, in turn, negatively affects the heart and kidneys and creates conditions like muscle cramps.

That’s quite the anatomy lesson, but understanding this bit of biology allows you to address adverse symptoms when your electrolytes are out of balance. It also helps explain some of the other benefits of potassium below. One of the best ways you can maintain cell fluidity equilibrium (and avoid those painful leg cramps!) is to get adequate amounts of potassium.

Benefit #2: Potassium helps maintain a healthy nervous system

Potassium impacts our nervous system, that all-important communication device that relays messages between your brain and body. These messages are delivered in the form of nerve impulses and help regulate muscle contractions (what we just addressed in Benefit #1), heartbeat, reflexes, and many other body functions.  

What are nerve impulses and why they matter

Nerve impulses are critical for us to be able to function. They are required for neurons to send information to other cell types about senses, movement, feeling, and thinking. For example, if you touch a hot stove, it’s nerve impulses that quickly communicate between the nerve cells in your hand and your brain so that you move your hand and avoid a more serious burn. 

Another interesting fact about nerve impulses is that this isn’t a ‘one-and-done’ system of communication. An impulse is initiated and then repeatedly transmitted along axons (long extensions of nerve cell bodies that are several times thinner than a human hair) to keep the nervous system’s messages stable and accurate during their rapid-fire travel.

I find it interesting that nerve impulses are generated by sodium ions moving into cells and potassium ions moving out of cells. This movement of ions changes the voltage of the cell, which activates a nerve impulse. A drop in blood level of potassium can affect the body’s ability to generate a nerve impulse. Or, in other words, low potassium levels mean your cells cannot effectively communicate with each other. This explains a lot of those symptoms of low potassium we talked about earlier. It’s also a really good reason to get adequate potassium in your diet. 

Benefit #3: Potassium helps reduce blood pressure

Heart disease is still the leading cause of death worldwide, so this benefit of potassium is worth addressing. For all the reasons we’ve already addressed in this article, balancing out potassium and sodium is crucial to the heart and its role in pumping blood through your body. That movement of the potassium in and out of the cells is critical to maintaining a regular heartbeat.  

An analysis of several studies found that when people with high blood pressure increased their potassium intake, their systolic blood pressure decreased by up to 6 mmHg, while their diastolic blood pressure was 4 mmHg lower. That might not seem like a big difference, but for someone with high blood pressure, lowering it that much could make all the difference in getting to a healthy heartbeat.  

Along with decreased blood pressure, potassium has been found to reduce the risk of strokes. A stroke is caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain. Over 130,000 Americans die each year from strokes. 

In an analysis of 33 studies, scientists found that people who ate the most potassium had a 24% lower risk of stroke than those who ate the least. Even if this were the only benefit of potassium, this would be reason enough to make sure you’re getting enough potassium. Reducing your risk of heart attack by 24% should compel each of us to get our potassium levels checked – even if we’re not showing any symptoms of low potassium levels.

Benefit #4: Potassium helps prevent kidney stones

This benefit of potassium is near and dear to me. Since I’ve had kidney stones in the past, I work hard to never experience that pain again. (If you know, you know!!)  

Kidney stones are clumps of material that may form in concentrated urine. Calcium is a common mineral found in kidney stones. Several studies show that potassium citrate lowers calcium levels in urine. This means that potassium can help prevent kidney stones from forming. 

In a four-year study with almost 46,000 male participants, scientists found those who consumed the most potassium daily had a 51% lower risk of kidney stones than those who didn’t. Additionally, in a 12-year study of almost 92,000 females, research showed that those who consumed the most potassium had a 35% lower risk of kidney stones. 

I can lessen my chance of those painful stones by 35-51% just by taking potassium? Yes, please! That’s all I need to know to stay motivated to consume my high-potassium foods on a daily basis!

Benefit #5: Potassium may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis

This benefit of potassium is also close to my heart. Since I have a family history of this terrible disease, I’m always looking for ways to naturally strengthen my bones.  

Osteoporosis means “porous bone” and is a bone disease that causes the bones to become weak. As bones become less dense, they weaken and may break from a fall, or, in serious cases, even a minor bump, or even a sneeze. 

Osteoporotic bones are linked to low levels of calcium, which is an important mineral for bone health. A potassium-rich diet has been shown to reduce the calcium that the body loses through urine. Multiple studies show that participants who ate the most potassium had the greatest total bone mass. 

Additional benefits of potassium

Have I convinced you yet? Although these are our favorite and most-noticed health benefits of the right amount of potassium, these aren’t all of them. Studies also show that potassium can help if you are retaining water (by increasing urine production). A diet high in potassium also helps to preserve muscle mass as we age, which is so important since we lose 3-8% of our muscle each year after the age 30, and at an accelerating rate of decline after 60. 

How can you know if you’re getting enough potassium?

A great way to find out if you need more potassium is through hair analysis, an amazingly informative service now offered at More Than Healthy. With just a few strands of your hair, you receive a full report that looks at toxins, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electromagnetic frequency exposure, chemicals, radiation, parasites, and immune factors, as well as which foods you should avoid – and it all only takes about 15 minutes!  Go to our website to learn more and schedule your hair analysis today.

What is your favorite potassium-rich food? Let us know! As always, we enjoy hearing from you. If you have questions about anything we’ve discussed or any health issue, ask us on our social media pages on Facebook or Instagram (@morethanhealthyliving). You can also private message us. We try to respond to all questions. 

For those of you interested in our free More Than Healthy detox, just go to our website and click on Get the More Than Healthy 7-Day Detox, and we’ll send it to you at no cost. We’d love to become your health coaches as you work to become “more than healthy” and achieve your optimal health. 

Thanks for joining us! We’ll see you next week.

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