Benefits of Potassium and The Risks of Potassium Difficiency

Have you ever stopped to wonder who taught a monkey what to eat?

I realize that you’re here to learn about the benefits of potassium, but bare with me a moment, I promise that I will give you the answer…for now, back to the monkey question, it will all make sense in a second…

I’m willing to bet that you’ve never given it much thought because, admittedly, the question is quite ridiculous. Monkeys just seem to know what to eat. Through this mysterious force we call “instinct”, most animals exit the womb and just know exactly what to put in their mouths.

Although humans are more than animals, we do have instincts, like our monkey ancestors.

In recent years scientists have been trying to understand what we consumed when we didn’t have government agencies to tell us what to eat…

During this time, approximately 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, Paleolithic man was comprised of hunters and gatherers who consumed a diet motivated primarily by instinct. Then approximately 10,000 years ago began the Neolithic Revolution…

The Grand Mistake

During this new age of human development; we adopted more of an agriculture and animal husbandry practice. I imagine this is about the time when those nasty little creatures called “food scientists” came into existence…

A “food scientist” is someone who thinks that they can make food better, tastier, and more nutritious than nature.

Although the study of the Paleolithic lifestyle is quite complex, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what kinds of foods our ancestors consumed. It’s no surprise to see that most experts in the area of Paleolithic eating suspect that these people consumed primarily fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some wild game. If you’re reading this list and feel that this seems like common sense, I’d argue that this feeling of “knowing” that you’re experiencing is the remnant of your Paleolithic instinct.

Our abandonment of the Paleolithic way has resulted in a number of harmful and even life-threatening nutrient deficiencies…

Potassium Deficiency and the Benefits of Potassium

One nutrient that many scientists believe was much more abundant in our diet during Paleolithic times was potassium.

The Stone Age humans likely consume approximately 15 grams (That’s 15,000 mg!) of potassium on a daily basis. Compare that to the recommended daily allowance of 4.7 grams per day. A ridiculously low level, I may add, that most of us never achieve.

In addition to a deficiency of potassium, the average American consumes a large excess of sodium. The sodium to potassium ratio is important for proper function of the body; when this ratio gets imbalanced the body suffers.

Our Stone Age ancestors only consumed less than a gram of sodium (0.6 g) and it’s estimated that the average American now consumes approximately 3.5 g of sodium and an embarrassing low 2.8 g of potassium.

Why Should We Be Concerned With Our Sodium/Potassium Balance?

The balance of sodium and potassium is crucial for the function of many cellular systems; some signs of potassium deficiency include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Heart arrhythmia
  3. Heart failure
  4. Muscle weakness
  5. Constipation
  6. Delayed emptying of the stomach

Isn’t Potassium Dangerous?

Contrary to popular belief, potassium is a safe nutrient when taken properly. In healthy adults without heart or kidney problems, daily potassium intake should not exceed 8 grams.

If you suffer with kidney and/or heart disease, or you’re on certain medications for blood pressure, potassium toxicity can occur at lower doses. For this latter group, ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking potassium supplements.

When supplementing with potassium, you must take into account how much potassium you’re taking in through diet. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, legumes are all good sources of potassium.

It’s possible to get sufficient potassium levels from your diet, however, it requires discipline and a hefty appetite for fruits and vegetables.

For the rest of us, we may need supplements to achieve healthy potassium levels.

Who’s At Risk of Potassium Deficiency?

Before we get into the benefits of potassium, let’s talk about the risks of potassium deficiency.

It’s important to realize that certain lifestyle habits, medications, and conditions can lead to an increased risk of potassium deficiency, these include:

  1. The use of diuretics
  2. Diarrhea or vomiting
  3. Chronic dieting
  4. Chronic kidney failure
  5. Magnesium deficiency
  6. Strenuous exercise

Keep these variables in mind when considering supplementation. See our article Daily Potassium Requirements for Optimal Health for more information on supplementing with potassium.

What Are the Benefits of Potassium?

Potassium is essential for regulating fluid balance, acidity within the body, blood pressure, and muscle function. There are numerous outward benefits of supplementing with potassium, including:

  1. Lowering blood pressure – An analysis of 33 published studies have demonstrated potassium supplementation to be of benefit in people who suffer with hypertension. The effective dose used in the research was 2,400 mg daily. (JAMA 1997;277:1624–32
  2. Protection from Cardiac Arrhythmias – Studies show that people with low potassium levels are at a heightened risk of arrhythmia. Supplementation with 1,000 mg of potassium was shown to decrease the risk of arrhythmia in people who were prescribed a potassium-depleting blood pressure medication called hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ). (Int J Cardiol 1989;25:93–8)
  3. Prolonged life and Improved Quality of life – One study demonstrated that men who consumed high levels of potassium had a longer life. More importantly, those with higher potassium intake enjoyed an improved quality of life. See the article: Potassium for a Longer and Healthier Life – Benefits of Potassium for Seniors
  4. Improved energy – Electrolytes, such as potassium, can allow the body to manufacture needed energy. Potassium deficiency can cause physical and mental exhaustion.
  5. End to muscle cramps and charlie horses – Potassium deficiency can promote muscle cramps, as can calcium or magnesium deficiency.

The Right Potassium Supplement

Most potassium supplements that are available at health food stores only provide 99 mg per tablet or capsule. One formula, called K+2 Potassium by Designs For Health, provides 300 mg of potassium per capsule. I usually recommend this formula for our clients and patients because it allows them to use fewer capsules and tablets.

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