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POTASSIUM

Potassium has the atomic number of 19 and is essential to the life of every cell of a living being and is among the most generously and widely distributed of all the tissue minerals. It is found principally in the intracellular fluid where it plays an important role as a catalyst in energy metabolism and in the synthesis of glycogen and protein. The average adult human body contains 120 g as potassium and 245 g as potassium chloride. There is 117 g found in the cells and 3 g in the extra cellular compartment.

Potassium is most concentrated inside the cells of the body. The gradient, or the difference in concentration from within the cell compared to the plasma, is essential in the generation of the electrical impulses in the body that allow muscles and the brain to function.

Potassium is an electrolyte which means it is a mineral with an electric charge that is present in blood and other fluids in the body. This mineral is necessary for growth, electrical activity of the heart, maintaining normal blood pressure, muscle function including the heart and nerve impulse transmission. It also helps overcome fatigue and aids in clear thinking by sending oxygen to the brain.

Potassium is also responsible for regulating bodily fluids which prevents dehydration. It also helps the kidneys in detoxification of blood and acts as an alkalising agent in keeping a proper acid-alkaline balance in the blood and tissues. It promotes the secretion of hormones which helps to prevent female disorders by stimulating the endocrine hormone production and is also a mineral required for producing healthy sperm in males.

It is also a natural pain reliever that can help to control convulsions, headaches and migraines and promotes faster healing of cuts, bruises and other injuries.

Tear film includes electrolytes, one of which is potassium. One of the first-line treatments prescribed for dry eye is the use of lubricating drops. It is often recommended to choose a drop with an electrolyte composition closest to that of natural tears. Potassium in addition to bicarbonate appears to be one the most important of these electrolytes in tear film. Several research studies have demonstrated that potassium levels have a direct impact on tear film. Researchers have found that lower levels of potassium negatively affect tear-film break-up time and also are integral to the maintenance of corneal epithelium. Another study on animal subjects showed that potassium is necessary for the maintenance of normal corneal thickness. Each of these discoveries highlights the importance of potassium to the optimal health of the corneal surface.

Alcohol has a serious affect on potassium levels in the body. Beer has high water content and a low concentration of soluble nutrients. The alcohol content of beer impairs the normal anti-diuretic hormones effect so the high water content of beer is retained in the body, diluting the concentration of ions and causing fluid overload in the bloodstream. The decreased concentration of potassium ions causes hormonal imbalance and thirst, so you want to drink more even though the body already has excess fluid.

Because whiskey and other spirits have lower water content than beer, less water enters the body. The alcohol suppresses levels of anti-diuretic hormones  and the kidneys process more water from the bloodstream into urine than is consumed, which raises the concentration of potassium and other ions in the bloodstream. This sets up a dehydration effect where your body attempts to dilute the concentrated ion imbalance in the bloodstream by drawing water from cells throughout the body. The resulting ionic imbalance affects individual cells as well as organ functions. The fluid shift from cells to bloodstream results in serious dehydration.

The potassium sorbate used to preserve certain types of wine can increase the potassium content of the wine.

Hyperkalaemia

Hyperkalaemia, also known as hyperkalemia, is is the medical term for too much potassium in the blood and is a potentially life-threatening situation because it causes abnormal electrical conduction in the heart and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems. High potassium levels are most often associated with kidney failure, in which potassium levels build up and cannot be excreted in the urine. In serious and advanced cases, emergency dialysis may be required to remove the potassium if kidney function is poor.

The adrenal glands produce aldosterone, which is the main mineralocorticoid whose function is to cause the kidneys to reabsorb sodium and fluid while excreting potassium in the urine. This helps to keep these two ions in balance. Therefore, diseases of the adrenal gland, such as Addison's disease, that lead to decreased aldosterone secretion can decrease kidney excretion of potassium, resulting in body retention of potassium, and hence hyperkaemia. See below for the foods that are high and low in potassium.

High potassium levels do not typically cause liver problems unless left untreated for a prolonged period. Liver disease, however, is more likely to contribute to excess potassium in the body, therefore, excessive and regular alcohol consumption can cause and aggravate this condition.

 

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Hypokalaemia

Hypokalaemia, also known as hypokalemia, is the medical term for too little potassium in the blood usually from causes like vomiting, diarrhoea, sweating and medications like diuretics or laxatives. It is often seen in diabetic ketoacidosis, where potassium is excessively lost in the urine. Since chemicals in the body are related in their metabolism, low magnesium levels can be associated with hypokalaemia. Potassium absorption is enhanced by consuming foods rich in vitamin B6. Elderflowers can reduce potassium levels in the blood. Low potassium levels can worsened any liver disorders.

Potassium deficiency

A deficiency of potassium may occur due to diuretic medications or during gastrointestinal disturbances with severe vomiting and diarrhoea, diabetic acidosis and potassium losing nephritis. Deficiency can cause undue nervous and body tiredness, palpitation of the heart, cloudiness of the mind, nervous shaking of the hands and feet, great sensitivity of the nerves to cold, excessive perspiration of the feet and hands, high blood pressure, Parkinson's disease and stroke.

Potassium can be lacking in the diet due to intense farming techniques. Intensive physical activity, old age, drinking alcohol and taking some medications can also cause the body to have lower levels of potassium in which case at least one of the following potassium rich foods should be consumed daily.

In simple cases of potassium deficiency, drinking plenty of coconut water daily can make up for it. It is advisable to consume plenty of almonds, apricots, figs, prunes and tomatoes during the use of oral diuretics. Tender coconut water comes from the fresh young tender green coconuts available where the trees grow as opposed to the older dried and hardened coconuts commonly transported to other parts of the  world.

Potassium overdose

Beta-blockers and drugs for hypertension are types of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease and can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods such as bananas should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers. Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If the kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.

Potassium supplements should not be taken as they can cause an imbalance of electrolytes and reduce the heart rate down to dangerous levels. Consuming potassium rich foods is important when taking diuretics that lower potassium levels in the blood.

NOTE: Potassium-rich foods should be restricted during acute renal (kidney) failure and Addison’s disease.

Highest sources of potassium in milligrams per 100 grams

  • Dried basil, chervil, coriander, dill, parsley 4240 mg

  • Sun dried tomatoes 3427 mg

  • Turmeric 2,525 mg

  • Raw cocoa 2509 mg

  • Whey powder 2289 mg

  • Paprika and chilli powder 2280 mg

  • Yeast extract 2100 mg

  • Soya beans 1,797 mg

  • Cumin 1,788 mg

  • Fennel seeds 1,694 mg

  • Rice bran 1,485 mg

  • Black strap molasses 1464 mg

  • Kidney beans 1,406

  • Dried soya beans 1364 mg

  • Spirulina 1,363 mg

  • Coriander seeds 1,267 mg

  • Apricots dried 1,162 mg

  • Rabbit stewed 1026 mg

  • Pistachio nuts 1007 mg

  • Squash and pumpkin seeds 919 mg

  • Chick peas 875 mg

  • Sunflower seeds 850 mg

  • Raisins 749 mg

  • Prunes 732 mg

  • Almonds 705 mg

  • Dates 696 mg

  • Whelks 694 mg

  • Dried figs 680 mg

  • Cashew nuts 660 mg

  • Peanut butter 649 mg

  • Clams 628 mg

  • Watermelon seeds 648 mg

  • Pine nuts 597 mg

  • Chestnuts 592 mg

  • Spinach raw 558 mg

  • Anchovies 544 mg

  • Baked potatoes 535 mg

  • Coriander leaves 521 mg

  • Mackerel 520 mg

  • Breadfruit 490 mg

  • Avocados 485 mg

  • Sweet potato baked 475 mg

  • Sesame seeds 468 mg

  • Spinach boiled 466 mg

  • Walnuts 441mg

  • Soya sauce 435 mg

  • Black beans 431 mg

  • Cinnamon 431 mg

  • Pork 423 mg

  • Potatoes 421 mg

  • Guava 417 mg

  • Fennel 414 mg

  • Bulgur wheat 410 mg

  • Garlic 401 mg

  • Brussel sprouts (juiced raw) 389 mg

  • Lentils cooked 369 mg

  • Salmon 363 mg

  • Bananas 358 mg

  • Coconut 356 mg

  • Nutmeg 350 mg

  • Passion fruit 348 mg

  • Green chilli peppers 340 mg

  • Sweet potatoes 337 mg

  • Venison 335 mg

  • Watercress 330 mg

  • Carrots 320 mg

  • Bass 328 mg

  • Red chilli peppers 322 mg

  • Black currants 322 mg

  • Mushrooms 318 mg

  • Brussel sprouts boiled 317 mg

  • Kiwi fruit 316 mg

  • Lamb 310 mg

  • Beef lean 318 mg

  • Cannellini beans 307 mg

  • Sweet corn 287 mg

  • Bread bread 285 mg

  • Butternut squash baked 284 mg

  • Soda bread 266 mg

  • Coconut milk 263 mg

  • Apricots 259 mg

  • Coconut water 250 mg

  • Peas 240 mg

  • Sweet potato boiled 230 mg

  • Chicken 223 mg

  • Goat's milk 204 mg

  • Orange juice 200 mg

  • Grapes 191 mg

  • Peaches 190 mg

  • Oranges 181 mg

  • Clementine's 177 mg

  • Bell pepper green raw 175 mg

  • Cabbage 170 mg

  • Bell peppers green (boiled) 166 mg

  • Blackberries 162 mg

  • Plums 157 mg

  • Raspberries 151 mg

  • Milk semi-skimmed 150 mg

  • Onions 146 mg

  • Cauliflower boiled 142 mg

  • Yoghurt 141 mg

  • Lemon 138 mg

  • Grapefruit 135 mg

  • Butternut squash boiled 133 mg

  • Milk (whole) 132 mg

  • Sour dough bread 128 mg

  • Eggs 126 mg

  • White bread 115 mg

  • Balsamic vinegar 112 mg

  • Apples 107 mg

  • Cottage cheese 104 mg

  • Blueberries 77 mg

  • Apple cider vinegar mg

  • Oats 61 mg

  • Cous cous 58 mg

  • Honey 52 mg

  • Brown rice 43 mg

  • Butter 24 mg

  • Pasta 24 mg

  • White rice 20 mg

  • Tofu 20 mg

NOTE: If Hyperkalaemia or kidney disorders are an issue, steaming and baking will retain more potassium whereas boiling and discarding the water is a way to reduce potassium levels in vegetables.

Natural sources of potassium in alphabetical order

Recommended daily requirement

Potassium requirements have not been established but an intake of 800 mg to 1300 mg. per day is estimated as approximately the minimum need.

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"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC

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