Potassium deficiency – symptoms and causes

Potassium deficiencyPotassium is a crucial element for the body’s health. It conditions proper functioning of heart and brain, and also supports workings of kidneys or muscles. The daily required amount of it is quite large – the body’s potassium requirement is estimated to be around 4700 mg per day. And our diet is usually only able to provide half that much. It doesn’t mean, however, that this is the direct cause of hypokalaemia, which is insufficient amount of potassium in blood. Thanks to its precise regulating mechanisms, our body maintains the potassium level in blood within the range of 3,5 – 5,5, mmol/l. If the body loses too much of this element, though – i.e. after vomiting, hypokalaemia will develop soon. That’s exactly why – despite the diet not directly leading to potassium deficiency – it’s a good idea to regularly use supplements containing potassium.

Not having potassium in the body – what are the causes of it?

As we already mentioned, the potassium consumption dropping below the recommended 4700 mg per day won’t lead to development of potassium deficiency. What plays the key role here, however, is the body losing too much potassium. This particular electrolyte leaving the body is most often caused by vomiting and diarrhea following food poisoning, using laxatives or going through an oncological treatment. The amount of potassium in the body dropping can also be caused by losing potassium through urine – due to diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome, increased aldosterone level or using diuretics.

Other causes of potassium deficiency are extensive burns, insulin therapy, malabsorption in the gastrointestinal tract. Which shows there’s a whole lot of factors that can lead to potassium deficiency – and this condition gets diagnosed very often. It is the most common deficiency diagnosed in our body. And its consequences can be serious – which makes it a good idea to find out how the potassium deficiency manifests itself and how to counteract it.

The most common symptoms of potassium deficiency

Potassium deficiency mostly manifests itself through circulatory system disorders. There might be hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, sometimes increased blood clotting is also present. Someone with a low potassium level will feel fatigued, sleepy, apathetic and irritated. One very specific and bothersome symptom is the muscles aching, getting weaker and prone to fatigue.

Due to intestinal muscles working slower, there might be constipation and digestive problems, and due to disturbed functioning of kidneys and fluid balance in the body, limb swelling can be observed. Another characteristic symptom is nervous system disorders – sensory disturbance, cold intolerance, excessive thirst or paresthesia.

The symptoms of potassium deficiency can gradually get worse over time, showing up one after another, or they can appear suddenly – it is related to how fast the potassium level in the blood is dropping. Sometimes these symptoms can even appear when the element’s level in the blood didn’t drop below the lower threshold of 3,5 mmol/l, but a very fast drop in the potassium level occurred compared to the initial value.

How to prevent potassium deficiency?

The potassium level in the body being too low leads to serious health problems. Which makes it all the more important to prevent potassium deficiencies. The most effective way is to introduce a diet that provides as much of this element as possible together with a supplementation. Since our diet usually provides us with less potassium than our daily need, using potassium supplementation shouldn’t lead to overdosing. It can, however, bring plenty of health benefits, including preventing cardiovascular diseases.

In order to provide as much potassium as possible in the diet, it is necessary to add the following products to the everyday meal plan:
– cocoa
– legumes
– pumpkin seeds
– almonds
– nuts
– poppy seeds
– parsley leaves
– avocado
– tomatoes, tomato juice and tomato sauce
– bottled water with high mineral content

Potassium absorption from the gastrointestinal tract is inhibited by coffee, alcohol, sugar, aspirin and certain antibiotics – when consuming products rich in potassium, avoid combining them with the above mentioned. What has a positive impact on absorbing potassium, on the other hand, is vitamin B6 and magnesium. Obviously, one should avoid using laxatives or diuretics without a good reason.

The diet should be enhanced with potassium supplementation. It is the best to get the element from natural sources, due to being very easily absorbed, such as potassium citrate. As we already mentioned – the risk of overdosing potassium is not high, as our body has developed plenty of mechanisms that are great at excreting excessive potassium from the body. Which means that if we’re using a supplement containing this element as recommended on the packaging – we have nothing to worry about. The only people who should exercise caution are those who use diuretics that block potassium or drugs that modify blood clotting.

Joanna Łysak Author

Dietetyk i certyfikowany ekspert żywienia i ketozy. Zwolenniczka zdrowego stylu życia i zdrowej diety, propagatorka trendu clean label, praktyk diety ketogenicznej i postu przerywanego. W pracy i życiu prywatnym stawia na brak kompromisów – sięga wyłącznie po produkty i suplementy diety najwyższej jakości.

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