5 Signs of a Potassium Deficiency
The Western diet is notorious for lacking in many vital vitamins and minerals required to sustain optimal nutrition and quality of health. One of these nutrients deficient in this diet is potassium. Potassium is a critical plant rich nutrient that assists the body in a variety of physiological functions. Among these include its ability to improve bone health, sustain brain health and prevent cognitive decline, maintain cardiovascular health, decrease the risk of kidney stones and many more benefits.
Potassium is also called in the chemistry world “K+”. Do you know if you are getting enough of this key electrolyte into your diet? If are among many others with a lot of stress, a high salt consumption, kitchen full of processed foods, diet containing minimal fruits and vegetables and frequently find yourself eating food outside the home, you may be silently destroying your body.
Do You Need More Potassium?
Aging is one of the most threatening risk factors that affects our body’s ability to perform optimally. Stress, especially as we age, promotes oxidative damage to potassium (K+) channels in tissue such as the brain.
Degeneration of these K+ channels causes brain alterations which triggers symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease such as brain fog and memory loss. Seeing as how we are all aging, and stress is inevitable, chances are that you need to increase your intake of potassium. (4)
Adrenal Fatigue: When we are under stress, we utilize a lot of K+ and other electrolytes in order to produce the electrical currents that run our body. If we are unable to replace potassium and other electrolytes than it puts even more stress on our adrenals and can lead to adrenal fatigue where we are unable to keep up with the demands of our environment.
Hypertension: One common sign that your body is deficient in potassium is that you experience symptoms of cardiovascular dysfunction. Adequate potassium intake helps to lower blood pressure in individuals with both high and normal blood pressure levels. Epidemiological studies find that the higher the sodium to potassium ratio, the higher the risk for hypertension, disease, morbidity and death (1, 3).
Muscle Cramping: Are you prone to muscle spasms or cramping? These symptoms may be a sign that you have an imbalance of electrolytes and can be due to a potassium deficiency. Both cellular and circulating concentrations of potassium is required for systemic electrolyte balance (5).
Weak Bones: Potassium acts as a buffering agent for pH balance especially associated with bone density. Acidic salts can lead to a degenerative process known as bone demineralization which pulls nutrients from bones. Demineralization is a major factor in bone fractures, osteoporosis and tooth decay. (2)
Kidney Stones: When we are deficient in K+, we excrete more calcium into our urine. This concentrates calcium into the bladder where it can combine with oxalate compounds to produce kidney stones.
Potassium Rich Foods
The National Academy of Sciences recommends 4,700 mg of potassium daily to reap the rewards of proper K+ homeostasis (7). Other evidence suggests that health benefits can be observed at daily concentrations 1,000 mg less at only 3,700 mg daily (6). Unfortunately, many of us are receiving far less than even close to the recommended daily intake. Many studies suggest that consuming more than 3,000 mg potassium is on the highest average (1).
Listed in ascending order from containing the highest content of potassium to the least amount, supplementing the following foods into your diet is an effective strategy to improve your overall health by boosting potassium intake. (6, 7, 8)
- Swiss chard: 1 cup offers 961 mg and is one of the best sources of this nutrient
- Spinach: Contains 839 mg / 1 cup
- Avocados: 728 mg/ 1 cup
- Almonds: Unsalted and dry roasted almonds have 746 mg in every ½ cup serving
- Brazil Nuts: Along with almonds, brazil nuts are among the richest in the family of nuts; ½ cup of unblanched brazil nuts contains 659 mg
- Bok choy: Contains 631 mg / 1 cup and is considered one of the best vegetable sources
- Beets: Every cup of beets contains about 519 mg; Eating the beet greens will even get you an additional 654 mg for every ½ cup of cooked greens
- Brussel sprouts: 495 mg / 1 cup
- Broccoli: 457 mg/ 1 cup
- Cantaloupe: 427 mg / 1 cup
- Tomatoes: Loaded with 426 mg for every 1 cup of tomatoes; Consuming ¼ cup tomato paste offers 664 mg and 1 serving of tomato juice can have 556 mg
- Kiwi: 1 kiwifruit offers 215 mg
- Figs: A single medium sized fig has 116 mg
- Apricots:– One apricot contains 91 mg
Cardiovascular Health Benefits
Among the strongest evidence for increasing potassium intake is its direct relationship potassium has on improving cardiovascular health. A diet high in K+ has been shown to lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease related death. Conversely, a diet low in potassium consumption is linked to a higher risk of chronic heart failure and even stroke. (1, 3)
Recently researchers have discovered that potassium also plays a critical role in our adrenal health and is also associated with blood pressure. It has been long understood that potassium assists in regulating the sympathetic nervous system which consists of involuntary responses and includes smooth muscle such as blood vessels and even the stomach (5, 6). For this same reason, potassium improves blood flow and prevent damage to blood vessels (4).
Similar to other biological functions, adrenal cells require a voltage produced by potassium ions (K+) to function properly. Depending upon concentrations, the adrenal gland can inhibit or secrete a steroid hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone causes the body to retain sodium and increase blood pressure in instances of hypotension but consequentially does the same when K+ levels are low. (5)
Improves Renal Health
The adrenal gland is intricately associated with K+ through a compound known as NCC that is activated when cellular levels of sodium and chloride are imbalanced with potassium. Just as a series of pathways become disturbed from a K+ imbalance with the adrenal gland, kidney health is also dependent on electrolyte levels.
A high potassium diet can slow the progression of renal disease and help manage kidney stones (1, 3, 5). It does this by reducing the excretion of calcium which can form as hard deposits in the kidney during excretion.
Potassium Contributes to Bone Health
Approximately 50% of people are estimated to have osteoporosis over their lifetime (2). Along with common risk factors we often hear of including calcium and vitamin D deficiencies, poor potassium intake is also essential for proper bone health.
Increasing the amount of potassium in your diet is needed to improve the ratio of potassium to sodium. Individuals with a higher concentration of sodium than potassium have a 50% increased risk of developing osteoporosis. K+ helps remove sodium from the body thus allowing more nutrients to remain within the bone. An increase in K+ is also found to stimulate osteocalcin formation which is evidence of bone formation and nutrient density. (2, 6)
What foods will you add more of into your diet to increase K+ levels and improve your health? Here is a tasty green juice recipe that is full of electrolytes and phytonutrients!
Testing and Supplementing Potassium Levels
You can get a simple blood test using a comprehensive metabolic profile to look at electrolytes. This will test your blood K+ levels. Normal range should be between 4.0-4.5. A simple supplement can help to boost your levels if needed.
I have found that most people who are deficient in potassium are also very deficient in magnesium. This is why I use Mg-K citrate here which is a combination of magnesium and potassium to restore these 2 key electrolytes.