Potassium is a mineral that's primarily found in the body's cells and organs -- about 98% -- while the rest is in the blood. It has a hand in cell, tissue, and organ function.
Potassium is vital to proper heart, nerve, muscle, and digestive functions. It's also an electrolyte -- a substance in blood and bodily fluid that conducts electricity. Potassium is primarily used for potassium deficiency, bone health, high blood pressure, stroke, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Types of potassium
- Potassium citrate: Taken by mouth. Potassium citrate is used to treat and prevent kidney stones. It does this by reducing acid levels in urine.
- Potassium iodide: Taken by mouth. Potassium iodide is used to relieve chest and lung congestion, and protect the thyroid gland during radiation treatment.
- Potassium chloride: Taken by mouth. Potassium chloride is used to treat low levels of potassium.
- Potassium bicarbonate: Taken by mouth. Potassium bicarbonate is used to treat potassium deficiency.
- Potassium gluconate: Taken by mouth. Potassium gluconate is used to treat and prevent potassium deficiency when diet doesn't provide enough.
- Potassium acetate: Given by injection for deficiency when oral supplementation/treatment isn't possible. Potassium acetate is an alternative to potassium chloride.
- Potassium Nitrate: This unique form of potassium is used as a nitric oxide supplement, which helps increase bloodflow prior to working out, increasing strength, endurance, and muscle pumps.
- Potassium Nitrate/Silver Nitrate is also used topically for the treatment of ulcers and wounds on skin and mucous membranes, such as the mouth, vagina, and rectum.
Benefits, uses, and effectiveness
Potassium is crucial for helping the body operate normally and especially for the transmission of signals between the muscles and nerves. Consuming a diet high in potassium or supplementing your diet with the mineral has a variety of proven benefits.
Bone health: A potassium-rich diet, especially in older women, may help prevent osteoporosis.
Potassium supplementation may help treat or prevent hypokalemia, also known as potassium deficiency.
Consuming a potassium-rich diet may lower your risk of having a stroke. The same benefit does not seem to occur with potassium supplementation.
Some experts say that potassium supplements may help reduce blood pressure in children and adults. It may just help lower blood pressure in deficient individuals. The key to effective blood pressure reduction may be increasing potassium while decreasing sodium.
Potassium supplementation may help reduce irritable bowel syndrome since individuals with IBS have trouble absorbing nutrients. Your doctor may order blood work to check your potassium levels.
- A diet low in potassium and high in sodium has been implicated in mental health problems, even severe diseases like schizophrenia.
Other functions and benefits
- Electrolyte and pH balance control (in conjunction with sodium)
- Lowering cardiovascular mortality (increased potassium intake in conjunction with lower sodium intake)
- Helps preserve bone calcium levels by regulating pH balance
- Sodium regulation
- Assists in making proteins
- Aids metabolism
- Aids carbohydrate storage
- Assists growth and muscle-building
- Lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults
- Lowering the risk of coronary heart disease in adults
Potassium deficiency and toxicity
Having too little potassium in the blood is called hypokalemia. It's typically caused by excessive potassium losses via urine or intestines rather than lack of dietary potassium.
A slight dip in potassium levels may not be noticeable, but these symptoms are indicative of a deficiency:
- Stomach problems
- Muscle cramps/damage
- Irregular heartbeat
- Abnormal EKG (electrocardiogram for testing heart function)
Too little potassium may lead to:
- Digestive disorders
Blood potassium, comprehensive metabolic panel, and EKG are tests that may be ordered by your healthcare provider to diagnose a potassium deficiency.
Deficiency risks and causes
You may be at risk of developing potassium deficiency if you:
Excessive use of laxatives
Take water pills (diuretics) for high blood pressure or heart problems
Have certain kidney or adrenal gland disorders
Severe or long-lasting vomiting and diarrhea
Insufficient intake of potassium-rich foods
A physically demanding job
Athletes are at higher risk for potassium loss
Drink alcohol to excess or use drugs
Have malabsorption problems
Eat a lot of black licorice
Adding more potassium-rich foods to your diet can help treat and prevent deficiency. Dietary sources of potassium include:
Fish (including salmon, flounder, and cod)
Sweet and regular potatoes (with skin)
Potassium deficiency treatment
Treatment of potassium deficiency may also include:
Oral potassium supplements for a mild deficiency
Intravenous supplementation for severe deficiency
Switching to a diuretic that preserves potassium levels
Lowering thyroid hormone levels in the blood while increasing potassium levels. This treatment helps prevent paralysis caused by a particular type of potassium deficiency.
Too much potassium in the blood is called hyperkalemia. It's usually caused by kidney disease. The kidneys maintain blood potassium levels, but if your kidney function is compromised, potassium could build up.
Potential causes of hyperkalemia include excessive acid in the blood (seen sometimes in diabetics), trauma, burns, Addison's disease, taking beta blockers, and taking very high doses of potassium supplements. Expert opinion is mixed on whether eating a high potassium diet could lead to hyperkalemia. Older adults may be at risk for the condition since kidney function decreases with age.
Nausea and/or vomiting
There are typically no noticeable symptoms of hyperkalemia.
Helps maintain heart function (calcium chloride or gluconate), re-route potassium from the blood to the cells (insulin, sodium bicarbonate, beta agonists), and boost excretion of extra potassium (diuretics). Binding resins also facilitates potassium and sodium exchange in the GI tract. For people with kidney failure, hemodialysis is used to remove potassium.
Taking steps to live a healthy lifestyle while also reducing the amount of potassium inyour diet can also help.
Avoid refined foods such as white bread and rice
Eliminate foods you may be allergic to such as dairy, soy and preservatives
Eat less red and processed meat and more lean meat, fish and beans for protein
Use olive and coconut oils, which are healthier
Cut down on trans fats, which are in baked foods like cake and cookies, as well as fried foods
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
Exercise regularly -- at least 30 minutes, five days per week
Avoid alcohol and cigarettes
Avoid potassium-rich foods
Herbs may help as well. They are available in many forms including tinctures and extracts. Avoid these herbs as they may increase potassium:
Acupuncture, Swedish massage and homeopathy are some alternative medicine options may enhance kidney function.
Sports nutrition and electrolytes
Optimal nutrition enhances athletic performance and recovery.
Electrolytes are ions that are positively and negatively charged. They are involved in: [11, 12]
Balance of bodily fluids
Neural (nerve) activity
Besides potassium, other common electrolytes are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorous, and sodium.
Athletes who engage in intense physical activity for more than one hour at a time are prone to excessive fluid loss from sweat. Sodium and chloride are lost in larger amounts than magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Still,
Athletes may need to consume extra potassium.
Since dehydration can increase the amount of sodium and potassium in sweat, it's important to stay hydrated.
Carbohydrate- and electrolyte-rich sports drinks can replace valuable nutrients, including potassium, during extended bouts of strenuous activity. It's especially important to stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise.
When choosing a sports drink, take these considerations into mind:
It should have less than 8% total solids, such as sugars and electrolytes. Concentrated varieties may hinder fluid absorption.
Select a drink that doesn't contain fructose as the only carbohydrate source since it could cause stomachaches.
Also, fructose is slow to convert to glucose for energy use. So a drink with only fructose will not provide a quick energy boost.
After long, intense exercise, choose sodium-rich foods and beverages to aid recovery. Sports drinks or bars help, too. If you prefer drinking water, pair it with foods rich in sodium and minerals.
Add potassium-rich foods to your diet in order to boost supply. Supplementation is not needed, however, because the body can adjust readily to potassium losses. [6, 15] In a study of potassium supplements, researchers found that supplementation did not seem to be effective in preventing low potassium levels in athletes who were less active long-term.
Other experts maintain that supplementation may be warranted for athletes who:
Restrict energy intake and/or use severe weight loss methods
Avoid consuming foods from certain food groups
Eat an unbalanced diet
Safety concerns and side effects
Talk to your doctor before taking potassium supplements or herbal therapies. Do not self-treat.
Due to their effect on potassium levels, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and ACE inhibitors may not be appropriate for older adults.
A big drop in potassium levels can be dangerous. Consult your doctor, call 911, or go to the ER immediately if symptoms arise.[7, 8]
Side effects of potassium supplementation may include stomach irritation, diarrhea, and nausea. Larger doses may result in muscle weakness and slow heart rate or abnormal heart rhythm. If you experience irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or severe stomach pain, call your doctor.
Avoid tinctures if you have a history of alcoholism.
Do not take potassium supplements if you have kidney disease or hyperkalemia.
If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your doctor before starting herbal therapy.
Limit dietary potassium intake if you are on dialysis.
- Avoid starting a workout dehydrated or thirsty. One way to know if you're dehydrated is by checking the color of your urine. Pale yellow urine signifies that you're well hydrated. 
Due to possible hyperkalemia risk, do not take the following medications with potassium without first talking to your doctor.
Angiotensin receptor blockers
Potassium sparing diuretics
Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
Medications that may increase potassium levels
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Medications that may decrease potassium levels
Digoxin may have toxic effects if you have low potassium levels while taking it.
Daily Dosage Recommendation
0 to 6 months old
Babies 7 to 12 months old
Children 1 to 3 years old
(3 grams) 3000 mg
Children 4 to 8 years old
(3.8 grams) 3800 mg
Children 9 to 13 years old
(4.5 grams) 4500 mg
Teens 14 to 18 years old
(4.7 grams) 4700 mg
Adults 19 years old and up
(4.7 grams) 4700 mg
(4.7 grams) 4700 mg
(5.1 grams) 5100 mg
Hypokalemia (Potassium deficiency)
Based on specific needs
Source: USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Where to buy
Right here at PricePlow. Our price comparisons of various brands make it easy to find the best deal. You can save from 30% to 50% buying from us versus your local retail store.
What is the best potassium
There are a variety of products on the market that contain electrolytes, including potassium. Some require mixing with water or other liquids, while others are ready-to-serve.
Electrolytes come in many forms from chewy candies to fruits and vegetables. They are also sold in powdered form in individual packets as well as bulk containers. Potassium comes in supplemental, multivitamin-mineral formulas, and on its own.
NOW Foods offers a basic potassium supplement, manufactured in a cGMP-compliant facility.
Another good brand is Scivation's XTEND. It's a great source of electrolytes, including potassium. Plus it's sugar- and carbohydrate-free. It can help maximize your training intensity, and aid protein synthesis and recovery. It comes in a variety of easy-to-mix flavors.
Finally, you may also like to try the products in the coconut water subcategory.
- Certain types of cooking methods, such as boiling, can destroy potassium.
- Muscle cramps during exercise are more likely caused by sodium loss than potassium loss.
- If you are on dialysis, maintain a strict schedule to avoid potassium toxicity and other problems.
- Food processing can lower potassium levels in food, so eating too many processed foods and too few fruits and vegetables could affect your potassium levels.
- University of Maryland Medical Center; "Potassium;" Updated 2013
- MedlinePlus; "Potassium in Diet;" Updated 2012
- Health Supplements Nutritional Guide; "Mineral Deficiency Symptoms, Benefits and Food Sources;"
- WebMD.com "Potassium;" 2013
- L. Bellows, R. Moore; Colorado State University Extension; "Potassium and the Diet;" 2013
- University of Illinois Extension; "Questions Asked by Young Athletes"
- Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; Penn State Hershey; "Low Potassium Level;" Reviewed 2013
- Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; Penn State Hershey; "Hyperkalemia;" Reviewed 2012
- Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; Penn State Hershey; Types of Potassium"
- Drugs.com; "Potassium Bicarbonate"
- Shawn H. Dolan; ACE Certified News; "Electrolytes: Understanding Replacement Options;"
- MedlinePlus; "Electrolytes;" Updated 2011
- Zorbas YG, et. al.; Biological Trace Element Research; "Potassium Supplements' Effect on Potassium Balance in Athletes During Prolonged Hypokinetic and Ambulatory Conditions;" 2000
- World Health Organization; "Guideline: Potassium Intake for Adults and Children;" 2012
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise; Official Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine; "Nutrition and Athletic Performance;" 2009
- Kuberski T., et. al.; The New Zealand Medical Journal; "Coconut Water as a Rehydration Fluid;" 1979
- Drugs.com; "Potassium Gluconate;" 2013
- Drugs.com "Potassium Acetate;" 2012
- American Cancer Society; "Potassium;" Reviewed 2010
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