There are many micronutrients that the human body needs to function properly. Simply, we know them as vitamins and minerals. And, each of them has its special and important duties in the body.
As vitamins and minerals play significant roles in our bodies, in their absence or deficiency various ailments and diseases are bound to happen, some of which are fatal.
In this article, we are going to investigate one of these extremely important substances namely potassium in a detailed way.
At the end of the article, you will have learnt many things about potassium, including its crucial role in the human body, its health benefits, deficiency symptoms, etc.
Let’s start investigating this essential mineral.
What is Potassium?
Potassium is a type of mineral that the human body needs to work properly.
According to medical experts; potassium is one of the seven essential macrominerals. If we need to explain briefly; the term “macromineral” is used to define minerals that the human body needs in large amounts (1),(2).
Potassium is also an electrolyte or at least acts as an electrolyte in the body.
What we should also know is that the human body can’t produce potassium on its own. Therefore, we need to take this mineral from foods/drinks or alternatively from potassium supplements.
The Role of Potassium In the Body
According to Harvard Health Publishing; potassium has a significant role in the proper functioning of all cells, muscles and nerves in the body. It also regulates the heartbeat (3).
Because potassium functions as an electrolyte, it can also play role in various bodily functions such as (4);
- Blood pressure
- Fluid balance
- pH Balance
- Heart rhythm
- Nerve impulses
Health Benefits of Potassium
As potassium plays vital roles in several bodily functions, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that a sufficient amount of potassium in the body is associated with various health benefits.
In this section, we will look at the potential health benefits of having enough potassium in the body.
1- Reduce Blood Pressure
First things first. Potassium is arguably the most famous for its blood pressure-lowering effect.
The American Health Association indicates potassium as one of the most important nutrients when it comes to managing blood pressure (5).
So, how does potassium help lower blood pressure?
There are two ways that this mineral can aid in lowering blood pressure (5).
1-) It decreases the sodium’s negative effects in the body, plus, help kidneys to remove extra sodium through urine.
2-) It assists in easing tension in the blood vessel walls thus further lowering blood pressure.
Note: Unmanaged high blood pressure can result in heart attack and stroke (6).
2- May Help Reduce Water Retention
Here is another health benefit of potassium. This mineral has a great potential to reduce water retention in the body.
Water retention happens, when fluid accumulates between cells and in the circulatory system. When it happens, the affected part of the body swells (7)
What we know is that too much sodium is one of the causes of Water Retention (oedema). Sodium increases the amount of fluid retained in the body (8).
Potassium, as we indicated above, helps the kidney to excrete excess sodium. And, that, in turn, prevents the body from retaining too much water.
3- May Strengthen Bones
Scientific studies suggest that consuming enough dietary potassium can have a positive impact on bone health.
For instance; in a nationwide Korean population study researchers analysed a total of 3135 men older than 50 and 4052 postmenopausal women.
As per the findings of the study; researchers concluded that dietary potassium has beneficial effects on bone health (9).
There are also similar studies that reached nearly the same results (10).
As for how potassium contributes to bone health; according to researchers potassium has the potential to neutralize acid load and reduce calcium loss from the bone (9).
However, more research is necessary to understand the exact relationship between bone health and potassium.
4- Helps Muscles Work Properly
Potassium plays an important role in muscle functions. For this reason, when potassium is sufficient in the body it enables muscles to work efficiently or vice versa.
Potassium enables muscles to contract properly. That indicates if potassium lacks in the body the problems like muscle weakness and cramps are likely to occur (11).
Most importantly, potassium helps the heart ( which is a muscular organ) to pump efficiently.
5- May Prevent Kidney Stones
Scientific studies and medical experts underline the fact that sufficient intake of dietary potassium is effective in lowering the risk of kidney stones.
In a four-year prospective study; researchers found that participants who consumed the most potassium daily basis had a significantly lower risk of kidney stones (12).
Other studies as well reached nearly the same results and concluded that potassium potentially effective for preventing kidney stones (13)
Important Note: Potassium may be beneficial for your kidney health. However, if you have kidney failure, too much potassium can bring nothing but harm to your body. So, if you have a kidney issue, we strongly recommend you speak with your doctor as to your daily potassium intake.
How Much Potassium Do You Need Per Day?
How much potassium a person needs per day varies depending on certain factors such as; gender, height, weight, health status, age, activity level, drug use, ethnicity, etc.
The recommended daily intake of potassium shows alteration between medical authorities and medical institutions worldwide.
Despite the differences, it appears that daily potassium intake should be at least 3,500 mg per.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day for healthy people (14).
- According to NHS; Adults from 19 to 64 need 3,500 mg of potassium each day (15).
- WHO recommends a potassium intake of at least 3510 mg/day for adults (16)
- According to the article published on the National Institutes of Health, daily potassium intake should be as in the table below – the table shows the adequate intakes (AIs) for Potassium – (10):
|0–6 months||400 mg/day||400 mg/day|
|7–12 months||860 mg/day||860 mg/day|
|1–3 years||2,000 mg/day||2,000 mg/day|
|4–8 years||2,300 mg/day||2,300 mg/day|
|9–13 years||2,500 mg/day||2,300 mg/day|
|14–18 years||3,000 mg/day||2,300 mg/day|
|19+ years||3,400 mg/day||2,600 mg/day|
Sings Of Low Potassium Level in the Body
Until this point, we have underlined the importance of potassium for the human body. Now, we will find out the symptoms of low potassium levels in the body.
Although this mineral is essential, many people eat less potassium than they should, especially in western countries.
Reports and research show us that; the majority of Americans don’t include a sufficient amount of potassium in their diets (3), (17).
According to medical experts; the decline in potassium intake is one of the main reason why the number of people with hypertension has been increasing steadily worldwide.
Not only high blood pressure though, (as we discussed above ) kidney stones and bone density loss can also occur due to insufficient potassium levels in the body.
If you have mild potassium deficiency you may experience the following conditions (1);
- Fatigue / Tiredness
- Muscle Weakness
- A general feeling of discomfort, illness
If the potassium levels drop too much in your body, then you may experience (1);
- a high urine production
- glucose intolerance
- muscle cramps
- breathing difficulties
- heart rhythm problems ( potentially)
- confusion, in people with kidney disease
Harms of Too much Potassium In the Body
In the previous section, we have touched on the signs of low potassium levels in the body. And, In this section, we will examine the potential consequences of having too much potassium in the body.
To begin with, it is safe to say that if you are a healthy individual there is no need to worry about the harms of too much potassium in your body.
The reasons we say this is; your body uses the potassium as much as it needs then removes the extra potassium in the form of urine (18).
However, if you have kidney disease, you should be careful about your potassium intake. Because your kidneys can’t remove the excess potassium efficiently and too much potassium can stay in your blood (18).
This situation can even lead to heart attack and death.
Therefore, if you have kidney disease work with your doctor as to the safe amount of potassium intake
Foods That Are Rich In Potassium
Thus far, we have learnt many things about potassium, including its importance, role, recommended intake and health benefits. In this section, we will look at potassium-rich foods.
Although potassium can be taken in supplement form, the healthiest way of taking this mineral is to take them from foods.
The table below displays a decent source of potassium foods (10).
|FOODS||Amount of potassium (mg)||% Daily Value|
|A half-cup of dried apricots||1,101||23%|
|Lentils, cooked, 1 cup||731||16%|
|Prunes, dried, ½ cup||699||15%|
|Squash, acorn, mashed, 1 cup||644||14%|
|Raisins, ½ cup||618||13%|
|Potato, baked, flesh only, 1 medium||610||13%|
|Kidney beans, canned, 1 cup||607||13%|
|Orange juice, 1 cup||496||%11|
|Soybeans, mature seeds, boiled, ½ cup||443||%9|
|Banana, 1 medium||422||%9|
|Milk, 1%, 1 cup||366||%8|
|Spinach, raw, 2 cups||334||%7|
Tarkan is an experienced health writer ( currently more than 600 articles ) and also the founder of this website namely www.neededforhealth.com. His expertise in health stems from in-depth medical research and knowledge which he obtained over the course of many years.
Tarkan enjoys sharing factual knowledge on health, psychology and nutrition. He always aims to deliver evidence-based recommendations, provide links to related scientific studies.