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What is potassium?

Similar to sodium, potassium atoms are most comfortable when they concede an electron and exist as a positively charged atom (K+). Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in human body fluid; it is concentrated in the fluids inside of cells while sodium exists mainly outside of cells. The symbol for potassium is a K because of its Latin name (kalium).


What foods contribute to potassium intake?

Unlike sodium, potassium is not routinely added to foods. Therefore, foods naturally containing potassium must be eaten to meet the body’s needs. Luckily, potassium is found in most natural foods in the human diet. Many vegetables and fruits and their juices rank among the best sources of potassium. In fact, some athletes refer to bananas as “potassium sticks” with respect to their potassium content, although their potassium content really is not that outstanding compared to other fruits and vegetables. Along with fruits and vegetables, milk, meats, whole grains, coffee, and tea are among the most significant contributors to daily potassium intake.



How much potassium do we need daily?

Recommendations for potassium are the highest among the minerals. The AI for potassium is 4700 milligrams for teens, adults even during pregnancy. The AI is increased to 5100 milligrams during lactation. The recommendation is lowered with decreasing age and is 3800 mg and 4500 for


What does potassium do in the body?

Most of the potassium we ingest is absorbed by the digestive tract. So, like sodium the amount of potassium in the body will need to be regulated by the kidneys. Unlike sodium (and chloride) though, about 98 percent of the potassium is located within the cells, making it the major positively charged electrolyte dissolved in the fluid within the cells. Therefore, potassium is extremely important in the electrical activity of excitable cells in the body.


Can too little or too much potassium be consumed?

Although dietary potassium intake is by and large adequate to meet human needs, situations can place the body at risk for potassium deficiency. Persistent use of laxatives can result in a lowered body potassium level by decreasing the amount of potassium absorbed from the digestive tract. Also, chronic use of certain diuretics used to control blood pressure may also result in increased urinary loss of potassium. Physicians will routinely monitor the potassium levels of patients following either of these prescribed protocols. Also, people who frequently vomit after a meal, either involuntarily or voluntarily, can reduce potassium absorption. Finally, people following a very low calorie diet (VLCD) for extended periods of time need to be concerned about their potassium consumption along with levels of other nutrients as well.


Is it possible to develop potassium toxicity?

Potassium toxicity is not necessarily a concern provided that the kidneys are functioning appropriately. However, if the blood potassium level does become elevated (hyperkalemia) it would certainly affect the proper functioning of the excitable tissue, especially the heart and brain. The heart may actually fail to beat if hyperkalemia is severe and prolonged. Together with sodium, blood potassium levels are monitored closely in people diagnosed with diseases affecting their kidneys.



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