Main Function Of Potassium In The Body – Potassium is one of the most important minerals in your body. After all, it really keeps your heart beating at a steady rate!
Potassium also plays a role in many other important body functions. In fact, your brain, kidneys, muscles, and (yes!) your bones, all depend on this mineral…
- 1 Main Function Of Potassium In The Body
- 2 The Role Of Potassium
- 3 Key Minerals Functions And Sources
- 4 Patricia Imas On Linkedin: #iclimpact #potassium #fertilizers #plantnutrition
Main Function Of Potassium In The Body
So in this post, we will look at the health benefits of potassium. Then, we’ll discuss the top 35 potassium-rich foods. (It might surprise you that there’s more to this list than just fruits and vegetables!) And as a bonus, you’ll find a printable shopping list near the bottom of the page.
The Role Of Potassium
Potassium’s main functions include sending nerve signals, controlling muscle contraction, and managing fluid balance. And of course, this functionality applies to systems throughout your body! So getting plenty of potassium supports several aspects of health.
Potassium is important for the health of your nervous system, which is made up of nerve cells throughout your body. Now, nerve cells are responsible for relaying messages between your brain and the rest of your body. For example, nerve impulses help control muscle contractions such as your heartbeat.
So how is potassium involved? Well, nerve impulses depend on potassium. It is produced by potassium ions moving in and out of the cell. This process creates an electrical potential that allows nerve impulses to fire.
That’s why a low concentration of potassium in the blood (hypokalemia) can affect the functioning of the nervous system and cause everything from abnormal heart rhythms to muscle paralysis. A less severe potassium deficiency can produce milder symptoms such as fatigue and muscle weakness.
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As you can see, your nerve signals need potassium to function at a basic level and control all kinds of bodily functions! So this first benefit relates to many that follow…
Potassium is a key electrolyte that helps maintain fluid balance in your body. As you know, your body is made up of approximately 60% water! And water regulation is essential for optimal health.
Specifically, you need a balance of intracellular and extracellular fluids to support body function. This type of liquid is exactly what it sounds like! Intracellular fluid (ICF) refers to the fluid inside your cells and extracellular fluid (ECF) refers to the fluid outside your cells.
This is where potassium comes into play. Potassium can be found mostly in your ICF and in lesser concentrations in your ECF. Sodium is potassium’s counterpart — it can be found in high concentrations in your ECF and low concentrations in your ICF.
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Now, there is a good balance of potassium between your ICF and ECF called potassium homeostasis. Potassium homeostasis is maintained by the sodium-potassium pump. This pump is found in your cell membrane, and it moves potassium ions into the cell and sodium ions out of the cell. (Note this is the same process we discussed above that creates the electrical potential!)
But in terms of your ICF and ECF, the sodium-potassium pump is key to maintaining balance. It ensures that you have equal amounts of electrolytes (potassium and sodium), and thus fluids, inside and outside your cells at all times!
As we have seen, potassium is essential for nerve impulses to fire. And of course, muscles contract in response to nerve impulses. So you need potassium to move all your muscles!
More specifically, the contraction and relaxation cycle of your muscles depends on potassium — and that includes your heart (more on this in a moment!). Again, the sodium-potassium pump plays an important role in this process.
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When your muscles contract, it can cause a loss of potassium. The sodium-potassium pump works to correct this imbalance. In other words, it keeps your fluid and electrolyte levels balanced during and after physical activity. In this way, the sodium-potassium pump supports physical performance and recovery.
Your heart is widely considered to be the hardest working muscle in your body. On average, it pumps an impressive 2,500 gallons of blood per day. And over the course of a person’s lifetime, it can beat over 3 billion times!
Now, we have discussed how potassium is important for muscle contraction. And your heart is no exception. So to maintain a healthy heartbeat, your body needs potassium. This relationship becomes clear when you look at the effects of high or low potassium levels on your heart.
Too much potassium (hyperkalemia) can cause abnormal heart rhythms. In scientific terms, this is called cardiac arrhythmia. At the other end of the spectrum, too little potassium can also cause heart arrhythmias! As you can see, it’s all about balance.
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If you’ve ever had problems with an irregular heartbeat, talk to your healthcare provider to see if a potassium deficiency could be playing a role.
Because of the role of potassium in the regulation of the nervous system, heart function, and fluid balance, a diet high in potassium may help reduce the risk of stroke.
In fact, in a systematic review of 22 randomized controlled trials, researchers found that higher potassium intake was associated with a 24% lower risk of stroke. It should be noted that the evidence for this association is considered “moderate quality” due to factors such as variability in the study population. But more recent studies support these findings.
In another meta-analysis of 16 cohort studies (a type of longitudinal study that looks at specific groups of people who share characteristics), researchers found an inverse relationship between potassium intake and stroke risk. In other words, higher potassium intake reduces the risk of stroke. Specifically, intake of 3,400 mg of potassium per day was associated with the lowest risk of stroke.
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Now, this study shows a strong association between potassium intake and stroke reduction. But they do not show a “cause and effect” relationship. So more studies are needed to confirm this relationship. However, when you consider the important function of potassium, it makes sense that this mineral has stroke protection benefits!
Your blood pressure and sodium intake are closely related. Consuming too much sodium (salt) has been shown to increase your blood pressure. Sodium consumption is also linked to conditions such as hypertension and cardiovascular problems.
Now, this makes sense when you consider the fact that sodium-potassium balance is key to controlling your heart rate!
Unfortunately, the standard American diet (SAD) often provides too much sodium and not enough potassium. That’s because processed foods contain high levels of sodium, while foods like fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium. Because of this imbalance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly half of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure!
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The good news is, by eating potassium-rich foods and reducing your sodium intake, you can restore balance and lower your blood pressure. (Don’t worry, we’ll check out the big list of potassium-rich foods next!)
As discussed above, you need potassium to maintain fluid balance and to contract and relax your muscles. This function explains why a lack of potassium can cause muscle cramps. It also explains why potassium can help reduce menstrual cramps.
Thankfully, eating plenty of potassium-rich foods can help prevent muscle cramps in the first place. Increasing your potassium intake can also help reduce muscle weakness and fatigue — which gives you more energy to move throughout the day!
For those who do a lot of physical activity, maximizing potassium intake is very important. This means always having potassium-rich foods on hand for snacks and meals. But as you’ll see in the upcoming list, there’s a wide variety of potassium-rich foods to choose from!
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Potassium has been shown to reduce the risk of kidney stones in several human studies. In fact, potassium citrate (potassium bound with citric acid) is often used to treat chronic gallstones.
This is because potassium citrate binds to calcium in the urine and prevents the formation of mineral crystals that can develop into calcium stones. It also prevents the urine from becoming too acidic, which reduces the risk of uric acid stones or cystine stones forming. (Uric acid stones and cystine stones are two less common types of kidney stones that can occur as a result of fluid loss or due to certain genetic factors.)
But the good news is, research suggests a high intake of potassium can reduce the risk of kidney stones. Another reason to include the potassium-rich foods we’ll discuss below in your diet!
In addition to supporting overall health, potassium plays an important role in your bone health! In fact, research shows that potassium reduces bone resorption – the process by which your body breaks down bones. Over time, this effect contributes to stronger bones.
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Potassium may also be important for calcium balance. Studies show that potassium intake is associated with less calcium excretion through urine. In other words, it helps you retain more calcium, which supports your bone health. The evidence for this effect is mixed, but a recent double-blind randomized controlled trial suggests why this might be…
In this study, participants were assigned to receive either 60 mmol/d potassium citrate, 90 mmol/d potassium citrate, or a placebo. At the end of six months, the researchers found that 90 mmol/d of potassium citrate (that’s about 1600 mg) was needed to significantly improve calcium balance. So the mixed results from previous studies may have been due to insufficient doses of potassium.
Finally, if we look at clinical trials of the effects of potassium
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