The health benefits of potassium include relief from stroke, high blood pressure, heart and kidney disorders, and anxiety and stress. It helps enhance muscle strength, metabolism, water balance, electrolytic functions, and the nervous system.
It is the third most abundant mineral in the human body and is a powerful element in improving health. It contains the components for maintaining a high level of well-being and an improved lifestyle. You should not underestimate the importance of potassium in your dietary plan.
Apart from acting as an electrolyte, this mineral is required for keeping the heart, brain, kidney, muscle tissue, and other important organ systems of the human body in good condition. Potassium chloride is the main variety of this mineral, and it works in association with sodium to perform a number of critical tasks within the body.
Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency
Deficiency of any nutrient in the body is undesirable and potassium is not an exception. A diet deficient in it may lead to symptoms like fatigue and muscle weakness. Other indications for its deficiency include inactive reflexes, abnormal heartbeat, heart palpitations, anemia, and severe headaches. Potassium-deficient people may also experience high blood pressure, pain in their intestines, swelling in their glands, and diabetes as serious side effects of this deficiency.
Important Sources of Potassium
The most important dietary sources of potassium are citrus fruits, vegetables, and grains. Also, you can get an ample amount of this mineral from salmon, chicken, whole milk, fresh fruit juices, and almonds. Apart from those, nuts, lime beans, potatoes, and poultry are other products to be included in the ‘potassium-rich foods’ list. However, the important sources of this mineral also include avocados, bananas, and coconut water.
Health Benefits of Potassium
It is often considered an essential nutrient that cures blood pressure, reduces anxiety and stress, and improves many more health disorders. Let’s take a look at the common benefits in detail.
Stimulates Neural Activity
It plays an important role in keeping brain function at a normal level. High levels of potassium allow more oxygen to reach the brain, thereby stimulating neural activity and increasing cognitive function. There is a good reason why people call bananas brain food; they contain impressively high levels of this mineral.
It is of great importance in preventing the occurrence of stroke in the human brain. Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor and Kay-Tee Shaw, M. Sc., through their research, found that a high intake of potassium from food sources may protect against stroke-associated death. It is no secret that people at high risk for this tragic condition are often found to be deficient in this essential nutrient. Since it acts as a vasodilator, the blood vessels relax throughout the body when a proper amount of this mineral is consumed. This means that blood flows more freely and is less likely to clot and break off to cause strokes.
Stabilizes Blood Sugar
Studies suggest that lower levels of potassium are associated with a higher risk of diabetes. A study published by a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, found a link between high levels of insulin/glucose and low levels of potassium in people who were otherwise considered to be healthy. This is also why those suffering from diabetes are encouraged to keep their potassium levels normal, to reduce the chances of unpredictable spikes and plunges in their glucose and insulin levels by stabilizing the blood sugar levels throughout the body. Doctors consider low levels of potassium with high levels of insulin as characteristics of developing diabetes.
Reduces Muscle Disorders
A sufficient concentration of this mineral is required for the regular contraction and relaxation of muscles. Most of the potassium ions in the human body are located in the muscle cells. It maintains optimal muscle and nerve function and helps keep our reflexes fast because it stimulates the neural connectivity of muscles and the brain.
Muscle cramps are a common result of low levels of potassium in the blood, a condition called hypokalemia (source: Journal of Athletic Training). If you consume a banana every day, you can easily prevent muscle cramps because bananas have rich potassium content.
Enhances Bone Health
The benefits of potassium even extend to improving the health of your bones. There are certain qualities of this mineral that neutralize various acids in the body, which helps in retaining and preserving calcium, making it accessible to use for bone strength and durability. Furthermore, a study at the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center says that eating fruits and vegetables having high levels of this mineral results in higher mineral density in bones, further strengthening and prolonging their life.
Regulates Neural Function
Potassium channels play a key role in maintaining the electrical conductivity of the brain and dramatically affecting the brain function. It is also involved in higher brain function like memory and learning. In addition to this, ailments like epilepsy are related to the dysfunction of potassium channels that can occur through its deficiency. There are potassium currents that play a major role in mammalian neurons. These channels are interconnected with a vast array of neural function and can help moderate and regulate electrical currents throughout the body.
Stabilizes Blood Pressure
Potassium plays an indispensable role in maintaining blood pressure. As per a study by Cappuccio Francesco P et al. in the Journal of Hypertension, potassium counteracts the effects of sodium, helping stabilize blood pressure and subsequently reducing risks of heart diseases and hypertension.
Further emphasizing its importance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that increasing potassium intake can effectively reduce blood pressure in those with hypertension, thereby decreasing risks of heart disease and stroke. On the flip side, excess sodium consumption can hike up your blood pressure.
Digging deeper, studies on mice revealed that a diet low in potassium yet high in salt activates certain receptors in the kidney leading to sodium retention and elevated blood pressure. This effect hinges on plasma potassium levels. Further research on cultured cells and human urine samples supported this theory, underscoring that a lack of dietary potassium amplifies blood pressure by promoting salt absorption in certain parts of the kidney.
The takeaway? Boosting potassium intake can help counteract high-salt diet effects on our blood pressure.
One of the useful benefits of potassium is its role in ensuring the proper growth of muscle tissues and the utilization of energy released during metabolism, which adds significantly to muscular strength. The muscles, including those all-important cardiac muscles, are prone to paralysis due to a deficiency of potassium in a person’s diet.
Stimulating cell growth and providing the metabolic energy to do so is a vital function of potassium and muscular health would be compromised without it. Also, without the contraction and relaxation that potassium allows muscles to perform, exercise and additional muscle training would be impossible.
Potassium assists in the metabolic processing of various nutrients like fats and carbohydrates. Thus, it is of a great value in extracting energy from the nutrients that are consumed. Detailed studies conducted in Denmark have shown that this mineral is also an integral part of the synthesis of protein, which has an impact on tissue regeneration, cell growth, and overall balanced metabolism.
Reduces Anxiety & Stress
Potassium is of great importance for people suffering from undesirable mental states like anxiety and stress. It is considered a powerful stress buster and therefore, ensures an efficient mental performance. Anxiety and stress are very detrimental to other parts of the health and any bonus from things like potassium is considered a good idea if you suffer from chronic stress. This mineral can help regulate various hormones in your body, including stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, excess amounts of which can be detrimental to the body.
Boosts Heart Health
The health benefits of potassium ensure good health for the heart as well as the kidneys. It plays an irreplaceable role in regulating the metabolism and keeping the heart and kidneys running smoothly. Additionally, this mineral assists the kidneys in removing waste through the process of excretion. However, it is strongly advised to consult your doctor to get recommendations about potassium dosage, because it can help stimulate the body to absorb more calcium than necessary, which can actually calcify and cause kidney problems, rather than solve them.
Maintains Water Balance
Another significant role that potassium plays is in the maintenance of an optimal fluid balance in the human body. Different types of cells require a proper water balance for efficient functioning and potassium aids these cells in regulating the balance. Fluid balance keeps all of our organ systems functioning in one way or the other, which is why many people recommend eating bananas after athletic events or after a night of heavy drinking, in order to rehydrate and optimize fluid balance.
Regulates the Level of Fluids
Potassium is also a great electrolyte in the human body. It helps in regulating the level of fluids in the body and thus aids in a number of critical body functions. Furthermore, electrolytes help transmit electrical charges throughout the body from the brain and nervous system, so extra electrolytes keep everything functioning faster.
Improves Nervous System
Potassium helps boost the efficiency of nerve reflexes that transmit the message from one body part to another. This, in turn, helps in muscle contraction to perform various activities every day without getting tired quickly, which is further benefited by potassium and is required to induce muscle contraction and function.
Word of Caution: Excess of this mineral in the body can be harmful; for example, patients with kidney issues who cannot properly process this mineral, may have dangerously high levels. This can lead to heart diseases, muscle paralysis, troubled breathing, tingling in the hands and feet, heart arrhythmia, and nausea. Potassium can be a miraculous addition to certain diets, but always be careful that you don’t overdo, and if you choose to include potassium supplements in your diet, consult your doctor first.