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Potassium

Illustration

Potassium is an essential mineral needed to regulate water balance, levels of acidity, blood pressure, and neuromuscular function. This mineral also plays a critical role in the transmission of electrical impulses in the heart.

Where is it found?

Most fruits are excellent sources of potassium. Beans, milk, and vegetables contain significant amounts of potassium.

Potassium has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
3Stars

High blood pressure (for people not taking potassium-sparing diuretics)

Kidney stones (citrate in combination with magnesium citrate)

2Stars

Cardiac arrhythmia

Congestive heart failure

Premenstrual syndrome

Stroke

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Who is likely to be deficient?

So-called primitive diets provided much greater levels of potassium than modern diets, which may provide too little. Gross deficiencies, however, are rare except in cases of prolonged vomiting, diarrhea, or use of “potassium-depleting”diuretic drugs. People taking one of these drugs are often advised by their doctor to take supplemental potassium. Prescription amounts of potassium provide more than the amounts sold over the counter but not more than the amount found in several pieces of fruit.

How much is usually taken?

The best way to obtain extra potassium is to eat several pieces of fruit per day, as well as liberal amounts of vegetables. The amount of potassium found in the diet ranges from about 2.5 grams to about 5.8 grams per day. The amount allowed in supplements—99 mg per tablet or capsule—is very low, considering that one banana can contain 500 mg. One should not attempt to achieve higher potassium levels by taking large numbers of potassium pills. This concentrated form of potassium can irritate the stomach—a problem not encountered with the potassium in food.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

High potassium intake (several hundred milligrams at one time in tablet form) can produce stomach irritation. People using potassium-sparing drugs should avoid using potassium chloride-containing products, such as Morton Salt Substitute®, No Salt®, Lite Salt®, and others and should not take potassium supplements, except under the supervision of a doctor. Even eating several pieces of fruit each day can sometimes cause problems for people taking potassium-sparing drugs, due to the high potassium content of fruit.

Potassium and sodium work together in the body to maintain muscle tone, blood pressure, water balance, and other functions. Many researchers believe that part of the blood pressure problem caused by too much salt (which contains sodium) is made worse by too little dietary potassium.

People with kidney failure should not take potassium supplements, except under careful medical supervision.

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with potassium. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

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