Dr. Laura on Potassium Levels

Potassium is a mineral that dissolves in water and carries and electrical charge. Easy to see how it can act as an electrolyte.

Nerve, muscle, and heart function all depend on the appropriate level of potassium.It is absorbed in the small intestine and excreted mostly in the urine, and some in the sweat and stool.

The kidney is the main regulator of potassium levels, so if it is healthy and you are getting regular food sources of it, there likely is no reason to be concerned about the levels of potassium in the body.

Potassium’s role in the body.

  • fluid and electrolyte balance
  • maintains nerve and muscle growth
  • balances pH (acid/base balance)
  • contributes to heart function
  • assists in the use of carbohydrates and proteins
  • interacts with blood pressure
  • supports healthy metabolism and blood sugar regulation.

 

Food sources of potassium

  • acorn squash
  • artichokes
  • bananas
  • citrus
  • dried fruits
  • dark leafy greens
  • dried beans
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • potatoes (white and sweet)
  • soy
  • tomatoes
  • cod
  • salmon

Low levels of potassium

Potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia may be noted by fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, heart palpitations, cardiac arrhythmia’s, hypertension, and postural hypotension. Trouble is, low potassium looks very much like high potassium, however it is more likely to have low levels

Low serum potassium can be caused by inadequate dietary intake, certain drugs, dialysis, plasmapheresis, increased potassium entry into the cells, decreased potassium exit from cells, and increased losses in the urine, gastrointestinal tract, or sweat.

High levels of potassium

Hyperkalemia rarely produces physical symptoms. Excessive potassium can disturb heart and skeletal muscle function, cause nausea, fatigue, muscle aches and weakness and increased respiratory rate.

Some medications can lead to higher than normal potassium levels:  ACE (angiotensin-converting enzymes), some antibiotics, anticoagulants, ARBS (angiotensin-receptor blockers), beta-blockers, COX-2 inhibitors, cyclosporine, antifungals, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs- Advil, Motrin), and potassium sparing diuretics.

Fasting, high blood sugar, metabolic acidosis, kidney insufficiency are all contributors to high levels of potassium.

Measuring potassium

Unless there is a state of severe deficiency, it can be difficult to assess proper levels of potassium. Blood serum levels may be normal, while blood cellular levels deficient. Beyond this, levels in the muscles may not reflect either the levels of blood cell or serum.

So long as the kidneys are functioning well and no drugs (as mentioned above) interfere,  there is generally no need to worry about higher intakes of potassium, as it will be sufficiently excreted.

References:

Kresser, Chris. 2018 Adapt Level One Blood Chemistry Manual. www.kresserinstitute.com

Lavalle, James. 2013 Your Blood Never Lies. Square One Publishers Garden City Park, NY.

Gaby A. 2011 Nutritional Medicine. Fritz Perl Publishing Concord, NH.