The mineral potassium is an essential mineral which must be consumed in the diet. It performs many essential functions in the human body; it is also one of the most abundant minerals found in the human body. The total content of potassium in a person weighing 150-pounds is approximately 250 grams or nine ounces. Potassium is essential to the functioning of many important cellular enzyme systems. This mineral is also vital for proper nerve excitation and contraction in muscular tissues.
Physical symptoms like persistent and generalized muscular weakness and an increased nervous irritability are evident in a person affected by a potassium deficiency. Symptoms such as persistent mental disorientation and irregularities in cardiac rhythm are also possible in such a situation. There are other severe problems associated with a greatly reduced potassium ion concentration in the blood, these include incidence of ventricular fibrillation, in this condition the heart muscles are given to vibrate rather than pumping blood normally - this disorder can induce sudden death and is considered extremely serious. Symptoms such as muscular deterioration and muscle weakness, as well as periodic paralysis are quite common during potassium deficiency.
Pathological disorders such as very high blood pressure can result from the presence of excess sodium in the diet. What is not normally publicized is the real ability of potassium to negate the effect of the sodium ions in the elevation of blood pressure above normal. An experimental diet with extra potassium was fed to laboratory rats in extensive animal experiments that also involved an intake of excess sodium - potassium was found to lower the blood sodium levels in the body of the tested animals while extending their life span.
The requirement of the mineral potassium in the body can be elevated by a number of other factors aside from the intake of sodium - some of these factors include gastric drainage problems, excessive and persistent bouts of vomiting, long term issues related to alcoholism, the incidence of renal disease and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. A deficiency of the mineral potassium can also be affected by the bio-chemical actions of certain classes of drugs - these include chemical purgatives, all types of laxatives, chemicals like ammonium chloride and silver nitrate, the corticosteroids and medications like carbenicillin, aminosalicylic acid, amphotericin and penicillin. The potassium levels in the body can also be depleted by the long term use of diuretic drugs. Hormones such as glucagon and insulin also affect potassium levels in the body. Eating a lot of licorice has also been known to induce very severe depletion of blood potassium levels. A rapid drop in the blood levels of potassium can arise from persistent and acute stress as well as severe physical or mental trauma, at the same time a very rapid potassium loss is also evident in the immediate period following a major surgical procedure - all these events can severely affect the tolerance of the body to high glucose levels.
Physical exercise and work are probably the most common factors that affect the body's requirement of potassium. A high amount of the potassium ions in the body is lost in the perspiration. Volunteers in human experiments lost more than 50% of the total potassium ions in the body following a long distance run of eighteen to twenty miles under weather conditions that were warm with high humidity. Potassium loss through the fecal and urinary routes can be adequately replaced by recommended levels of potassium - at 2.6 grams - in the diet. This dietary intake is not sufficient to replace the potassium loss through sweating - loss though perspiration is much higher than the amounts of the mineral lost through all the other channels combined.
The processing and refinement of food stuff eliminates all the potassium such foods possess. This is complicated by the fact that many of the same processing steps involved in the removal of potassium add sodium to the processed foods. Salt is often an additive in food processors to "enhance" the flavor of the processed product. The addictive nature of high sodium salt is currently hypothesized by many doctors - this is based on clinical studies that show that people tend to grow accustomed to the salty taste of certain foods and automatically learn to require high amounts of salt in the diet.
Potassium salt substitute is a source of potassium that underlines the basic human need for salt. Some cultures in the world actively avoid sodium salt and prefer to use only potassium salt to flavor food. Supermarkets sell several of these substitutes in the United States. Supplementary forms of the mineral potassium are also available in a very wide range of doses in many drug stores. As prescriptions drugs go, the supplementary potassium salts are considered to be among the most heavily prescribed medications in the world.
Good natural sources of the mineral potassium include fruits such as bananas and all fresh fruits, vegetables such as lettuce, squash and broccoli, potatoes and unsalted peanuts, wheat germ, all kinds of nuts and citrus juices including orange juice.
Far more potassium is made available to a person consuming the so called primitive diets - while most typical modern diets can be considered as providing too little or lacking in potassium. Potassium deficiencies are very rare and gross deficiencies of the mineral do not affect a lot of people, the exception being severe loss of potassium after a prolonged bout of vomiting, persistent diarrhea or following the use of diuretic medications that depleting potassium. Potassium supplements must be prescribed by a doctor to all individuals using any of these medications - such individuals must consult a professional doctor before using any of these medications. The levels of potassium found in prescription supplements which are sold over the counter have a higher content of potassium but generally do not exceed the amounts contained in several pieces of fresh cut fruits.
Eating several pieces of fresh fruit every day is probably the ideal way to obtain extra potassium. Potassium amounts permitted in supplements sold in the market are very low - about 99 mg per tablet or per capsule - this can be contrasted with the fact that a single banana can contain 500 mg of potassium. As potassium supplements taken in excess can irritate the stomach, it is advisable not to consume multiple potassium pills at one time in an attempt to get a higher dosage - such problems are normally no encountered with the potassium contained in fresh fruits and other natural sources of the mineral.
Side effects and cautions
The stomach is irritated during periods of high potassium intake - as can occur after the consumption of several hundred milligrams of the mineral at one time in the form of tablets. The use of potassium chloride containing medications must be avoided by all patients who are using potassium sparing medications of any kind - these medications include products like Morton Salt Substitute, products like “No Salt,” “Lite Salt,” and other similar products. In individuals who use potassium sparing diuretic medications even the consumption of several pieces of fruit daily can at times induce problems - this is simply to because of the abundant potassium found in most fruits.
Muscle tone in the human body is maintained by the combined actions of potassium and sodium, the combined actions of these two ions is also important in the regulation of blood pressure. Osmoregulation and water balance is also dependent on the combined actions of these two minerals - the two minerals are also involved in ionic reactions such as nerve cell excitation amid other functions in the biochemistry of the cell. The consumption of too much salt is believed by many clinical researchers to be the main causative factor for blood pressure problems - salt is a compound containing a lot of sodium; this situation can be worsened by the consumption of too little potassium in the daily diet.