Potassium is an essential mineral for all living things. It can be found in all plant and animal tissue, and even in the Earth's crust!
Of course, we're most interested in what potassium can do for your body and your health, so let's take a look at that. If you'd like to know more about vitamins and minerals in general, follow us on Instagram and use #KnowYourABC.
Potassium is an electrolyte, which means it conducts electricity. This makes it the perfect mineral to help your muscles contract when you need them to, including your respiratory system, digestive system and the muscles in your arms and legs.
The balance of potassium and sodium in your body creates the energy needed to trigger your brain and nervous system to move your muscles, while potassium also helps them recover after exercise.
Potassium helps to flush excess sodium out of the body via the kidneys. This is an important process, as too much sodium increases your blood pressure and increases your risk of heart problems.
If you're suffering from potassium deficiency, your psychological health could be one of the biggest clues. You'll have difficulty focusing and keeping information inside your brain, while you may also feel tired and experience mood swings as a result.
Getting enough potassium in your diet lowers the chance of this happening.
Potassium pushes sodium out of the body, and wherever sodium goes, water does its best to follow. If your body retains too much water, this can cause edema, a condition that leads to swelling and water-related weight gain.
The medical term for low potassium is hypokalaemia. We've already discussed what potassium can do for your body, and this provides plenty of clues as to what your symptoms might be if you're potassium deficient.
Signs you need to watch out for include:
It's true what they say - you can have too much of a good thing. The body needs a delicate balance of potassium to help your heart and other muscles continue working properly.
Too much potassium is known as hyperkalaemia, and can cause:
It's highly unlikely that you'll get too much potassium from your diet alone, but you should be careful about the supplements you take.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, it's important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible even if you're confident your potassium intake is normal. These symptoms could be an indication of a wider health issue, such as kidney failure or a blood disorder.
Both men and women need around 3,500mg of potassium a day. Your body is very good at absorbing the potassium you get through food.
When people think of potassium and food, they tend to think of bananas. While these are a good source, there are plenty of other foods that provide more. These include:
Some drugs can lower your potassium levels, so there may be a handful of cases where your doctor will advise you to eat a potassium-rich diet or take supplements while you're on prescription medication.
However, in most cases potassium supplements aren't required, and should only ever be taken under the guidance of a doctor. Simply working the types of food mentioned above into your diet should be enough for you to get all the potassium you need to stay healthy.
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