Properties and Benefits of Potassium: As a mineral of great dietary value, potassium helps maintain a healthy heart, ensures body fluid balance and regulates blood pressure. Potassium is by far one of the most health-friendly nutrients. It is present in practically every cell of our body from where it ensures fluid balance, a valuable body function. Potassium carries a positive electrical charge within the body and is one of four major electrolytes capable of rehydrating the body after prolonged workout sessions or following episodes of vomiting and diarrhea.
In addition to this, it supports the activity of the heart in particular, due to its capacity to control electrical impulses sent to muscles. This action, combined with its fluid-balancing properties, has a direct beneficial effect on blood pressure. Potassium, often combined with magnesium, represents a key step in the treatment of high blood pressure.
What are the health benefits of potassium and what are the symptoms of potassium deficiency? When daily needs are met, potassium promotes an overall good state of health. First of all, it regulates body fluids. What does this mean more exactly? As an electrolyte, it ensures the body has enough water in and out of cells to conduct electrical impulses to neurons and muscles. As a result, potassium supports the good functioning of both nerve cells and muscles. Since the heart is an important muscle, it is clear that an adequate intake of the mineral will keep it healthy.
Potassium basically ensures nervous impulses are sent to heart at proper intervals, resulting in controlled, rhythmic contractions of the organ. Last, but not least, it regulates kidney function. To be more exact, potassium maintains a balance between the amount of liquid taken in by the body and the amount of liquid eliminated by the kidneys.
But what happens when our diet fails to provide adequate amounts of potassium? What are the symptoms of a deficiency? Potassium deficiency is know as hypokalemia. Alternative spelling: hypokalaemia. This basically refers to low or insufficient amount of potassium in the blood. Hypokalemia symptoms may vary considerably depending on the severity of the condition. The most telling signs and symptoms of hypokalemia are:
1) Bloating, pain and cramping at stomach level. A severe potassium deficiency causes the muscles of the stomach, known as skeletal muscles, to become weak, cramp and cause bloating, pain and discomfort. Because it affects the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract as well, hypokalemia may also lead to constipation.
In case of extremely low potassium levels in the body, the bowels may stop working altogether, causing paralytic ileus, a condition in which normal digestive movement ceases. This malfunction or impairment of intestinal muscles and nerves is very often a result of electrolyte imbalance or poor potassium levels and required immediate medical attention.
2) Muscle cramps, tingling and numbness. Potassium deficiency means nerves cannot function properly and electric impulses are transmitted badly. This, in turn, leads to numbness and tingling sensations, especially in hands and feet, as well as peculiar burning sensations.
3) Heart palpitations, perturbed heart rhythm, extrasystoles (premature heart beats) and even cardiac arrest. Sufficient dietary potassium ensures a proper conduction system through which electric impulses reach the heart at regular intervals, causing rhythmic contractions. In case of a deficit, there is a disturbance in the normal rhythm of the heart. Skipped heart beats, premature or double heart beats (extrasystoles), rapid, violent or very slow beatings of the heart are all symptoms of hypokalemia. When there is a severe potassium deficiency, cardiac arrest may install.
4) Frequent urination and constant thirst sensation. These are fairly common symptoms of hypokalaemia and are caused by a malfunctioning of the kidneys due to an electrolyte imbalance.
5) Dizziness and fainting. Potassium deficiency causes an electrolyte imbalance due to which kidneys lose their ability to concentrate waste products from the blood. As a result, they simply eliminate water, causing both an excessive liquid loss and a sudden drop in blood pressure (hypotension). This, in turn, leads to dizziness or fainting, occurring most often when standing.
6) Paralysis. Extreme potassium loss may induce a state of continuous muscle contraction called tetany which is basically a form of paralysis. This may also affect breathing muscles and cause shallow breathing and respiratory problems.
7) Rhabdomyolysis is the breaking down of skeletal muscles and may occur as a result of severe hypokalemia. Associated symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include muscle weakness, stiffness and pain, as well as dark urine.
In addition to this, potassium balances sodium levels, counteracting the harmful effects of excessive sodium consumption. A diet rich in potassium implies good blood pressure parameters and prevents liquid retention. Last but not least, always remember that potassium goes very well with magnesium, a super duo for good health.