Functions of Potassium:
The average American diet contains from 3 to 7gm per day of sodium but only 2gm of potassium. This is almost the exact opposite of that which may be optimal. A desirable potassium intake per day is 6 to 9gm from food sources.
Maintaining a dietary sodium-to-potassium ratio of at least 1:4 can protect against hypertension, crippling strokes and premature death. Eating foods high in potassium and low in sodium can also help prevent kidney disease and heart problems caused by hypertension. Furthermore, a high potassium diet reduces risk of stroke and premature death – even if blood pressure doesn't fall.
Potassium works synergistically with sodium in the body. However, our typical intake of potassium versus sodium is all wrong. Researchers recommend at least 5 times more potassium than sodium. Unfortunately, most Americans eat so much salt that they reverse the ratio with two times as much sodium as potassium. Added salt is 95% of our dietary sodium.
The body expects abundant potassium and less sodium. Healthy kidneys regulate the potassium/sodium balance by excreting potassium.
Licorice root used in large quantities will increase the excretion of potassium. If licorice needs to be used for a long time, consider deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) or potassium supplements.
Elderly individuals are more likely to be deficient in potassium. So are those taking certain cardiac drugs, diabetics, those with Cushing's disease, and those who use too much caffeine or have liver disease.
Testing Potassium Levels. The body stores potassium in the cells and uses the blood serum mostly for potassium transport. By the time the blood level of potassium starts to drop you are in serious trouble. Serum levels are a fair indicator of potassium status, but the best indicator of intracellular potassium is RBC (red blood cell) potassium.
Deficiency can lead to
Lactic acid (and other waste metabolites) buildup in body, which leads to
Problems in nerve conduction, which leads to
Skin elasticity is an indicator of potassium levels. The skin on the back of one's hand, when pinched, should snap back like a fresh rubber band; if there is not enough potassium or too much sodium then the tissues will start to harden and return to their resting position more slowly.
Increased potassium produces a reduction in aneurysms. Potassium is known to be the activator for several enzyme systems. Since only minute amounts are needed for most of them, there could never be a deficiency which would inactivate the majority of them. However, it may be that part of the weakened connective tissue is an indirect effect of a continuing potassium deficiency on the copper metabolism, especially as it pertains to the copper catalyzed enzyme lysyl oxidase.
A low incidence of cerebrovascular disease was associated with geographical regions where fresh fruit and vegetable consumption (increased potassium) was high. It is possible that this association may also extend to aneurysms and subarachnoid hemorrhage in addition to stroke. [Low fruits and vegetables, high-meat diet increase cerebrovascular event risk. Medical Tribune March 10, 1997:26; N Engl J Med 316( 5): pp.235-40, 1987; Lancet: pp.1191-3, 1983]
According to Dr. Atkins himself, some people lose so much potassium they may need professional help. According to Atkins, sales of potassium supplements "of anywhere near the proper amount of potassium you may need are illegal over the counter; therefore you may need a doctor to write you the proper prescription." [Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution 3rd edition. M. Evans and Company, Inc. 2002]
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