Potassium is a vital trace mineral required by the body to perform numerous important functions such as relaying nerve signals and regulating muscle contractions. In fact, it is the third most abundant mineral found in the human body, after calcium and phosphorous. Also Read: Calcium: Functions, Food Sources, Supplements, Deficiencies And Toxicity
Potassium reserves are primarily present in cells, of which at least 80% of the mineral is found in muscle cells, while the remaining 20% is stored in bone tissue, liver as well as red blood cells.
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The method by which potassium facilitates various bodily functions is by dissolving when in water, to act as an electrolyte. An electrolyte is a substance that splits up into either positive or negative ions in water, to conduct electrical impulses. Potassium breaks down into positive ions in water to enable the smooth passage of nerve signals between organs and tissues in the body.
Potassium is a key mineral required by the body for cellular functions, due to its significant tasks in controlling the fluid volumes within a cell. Along with sodium, another critical electrolyte that regulates the flow of liquids outside cell membranes, potassium helps in preserving the transport of nutrients across the cellular borders.
Potassium is responsible for many crucial roles in the body, including:
- Maintaining normal blood pressure
- Transmitting nerve signals between organs
- Controlling muscle contractions
- Ensuring optimal water balance within the system
- Balancing pH in the body between acidity and alkalinity
- Upholding accurate heart rate i.e. pulse
- Regulating proper digestion processes
- Preventing stroke and heart disease
- Sustaining regular heart muscle activity
Although potassium is required only in minor quantities as part of the daily diet for children and adults, it is still a significant component of nutrition. Wholesome and balanced meals that consist of ample sources of potassium guarantee the prevention of heart ailments and fluctuations in blood pressure.
Natural food sources of potassium are abundant. Also Check Out: 5 Foods Abundant In Potassium That Are Incredibly Healthy – Infographic
The foods which are rich in potassium content comprise:
- Vegetables like green leafy cruciferous plants – spinach, kale broccoli, as well as carrots, potatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and beetroots
- Fruits such as bananas, apricots, oranges and grapefruit
- Whole grains like brown rice, wheat bread and oat bran
- Seeds and nuts including hazelnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and almonds
The normal body levels of potassium lie in the range of 3.5 – 5 mmol per litre of blood serum. When potassium levels drop significantly below this range i.e. lower than 2.5 mmol/litre, a deficiency disorder arises, termed as hypokalemia.
A person with hypokalemia displays prominent external indications including exhaustion, extreme fatigue even after resting, soreness in muscles and problems with digestion, like bloating, flatulence and constipation.
As the quantities of blood potassium fall dangerously low, much below 2.5mmol per litre, then the severity of symptoms is much higher. The affected individual exhibits partial paralysis in certain muscles and even breathing difficulties and must be given prompt medical care.
It is hence advised to go for regular health checks, at least once every 6 months, to obtain current blood test results and ensure that bodily potassium levels are at optimal range.
When the potassium quantities in the system rise to alarmingly high levels, between 5.1 – 6 mmol per litre, it is considered to be excessive, leading to hyperkalemia. In instances wherein the potassium amounts in blood serum surpass 6mmol per litre, it is a very risky situation, especially for those with chronic kidney illnesses.
Hyperkalemia usually occurs only when potassium supplements are consumed in excess and rarely due to too much intake from dietary sources. Nevertheless, it can cause heart complications, chest pain and respiratory distress and must be treated by a doctor at once.
The best way to keep potassium levels in check is to go for routine medical screenings and incorporate healthy changes to diet and avoid supplements, to restore normal body concentrations of the mineral.