WHAT IS POTASSIUM?
Potassium is a macromineral that can be found in a wide range of foods. It supports your body with various functions including maintaining proper muscle contractions and regular heartbeats. In this article I will be looking at potassium and its role in greater detail.
WHEN WAS POTASSIUM DISCOVERED?
Early humans were familiar with the potassium compound potash which was also known as vegetable alkali. However, until the eighteenth century they had difficulty distinguishing between vegetable alkali and mineral alkali (a none potassium compound). During the eighteenth century chemists started to understand the differences between these two compounds and then started to look for ways to isolate them.
Sir Humphry Davy was one of the chemists who tried to do this. In his first attempt Davy passed an electric current through a water solution of vegetable alkali and mineral alkali but he was unsuccessful. The reason for this is that although electricity isolates the elements in these two compounds they immediately react with the water. In his second attempt Davy melted a sample of vegetable alkali and mineral alkali and then passed an electric current through them. This time he was successful and isolated two elements; potassium (from the vegetable alkali) and sodium (from the mineral alkali). Davy was the first person to successfully do this and was credited with the discovery of potassium on October 6th 1807.
HOW DOES YOUR BODY USE POTASSIUM?
Potassium represents approximately 0.35% of an average person’s bodyweight. Around 95% of the potassium in the body is stored within the cells. Potassium has many roles in the body which include:
– Assisting in the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins.
– Helping to regulate the acid base balance in the body.
– Maintaining a proper fluid balance within the body.
– Promoting normal muscle growth.
– Regulating blood pressure.
– Regulating the heartbeat.
– Supporting muscle contractions.
– Supporting nerve transmissions.
HOW MUCH POTASSIUM DO YOU NEED?
Our potassium requirements increase as we get older. According to this article from WHFoods the following daily adequate intake (AI) recommendations should be followed:
– Children aged 0-6 months:- 400mg.
– Children aged 7-12 months:- 700mg.
– Children aged 1-3 years:- 3.5g.
– Children aged 4-8 years:- 3.8g.
– Children aged 9-18 years:- 4.5g.
– Adults aged 19 and over:- 4.7g.
– Pregnant women:- 4.7g.
– Lactating women:- 5.1g.
WHICH FOODS CONTAIN POTASSIUM?
Potassium can be found in many different foods. Fruits and vegetables are often the best source of this micronutrient but fish, meat and dairy products also contain good levels. The list below highlights some of the best potassium foods:
– Bananas:- 350mg per 100g.
– Dried Apricots:- 1880mg per 100g.
– Fillet Steak:- 470mg per 100g.
– Scallops:- 580mg per 100g.
– Spinach:- 490mg per 100g.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF GETTING TOO MUCH POTASSIUM?
It is very difficult to overdose on potassium because your body tightly controls blood levels of this nutrient. However, kidney disease and other infections can interfere with this process and lead to hyperkalemia (higher than normal blood levels of potassium). The symptoms of hyperkalemia include:
– Heart attack.
– Irregular hearbeats.
– Stomach pain.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF NOT GETTING ENOUGH POTASSIUM?
A lack of potassium in the diet is very rare because it is found in such a wide selection of foods. However, excessive fluid loss (which can be caused by diarrhea, sweating, vomiting and certain medications) can lead to potassium being removed from your body. Also consuming a high concentration of sodium compared with potassium can lead to a hypokalemia (lower than normal blood levels of potassium). On top of this digestive problems can inhibit your ability to absorb potassium and lead to hypokalemia. Hypokalemia has a number of negative symptoms which include:
– Dry skin.
– Heart disturbances.
– Muscle cramps.
– Muscle weakness.
I hope this article has given you a good insight into potassium and its role in the body. Whilst a deficiency can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms making fresh, natural foods such as fish, fruit, meat and vegetables a regular part of your diet can help you avoid them.
What do you guys think about potassium? Have you ever experienced any of the health conditions that cause hyperkalemia or hypokalemia? Is there anything I have missed? Let me know by leaving a comment.