Potassium Deficiency Easily Correctable With Right Diet
Potassium: Why You Need It
Potassium is an essential nutrient that the body requires for a wide range of functions. These include keeping the heart beating, normal bowel movements, muscle weakness, fatigue, irregular heart rate and high blood pressure.
Severe potassium deficiency is called hypokalemia, and it occurs when a person’s potassium levels fall below 3.6 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
Doctors consider a person to have severe hypokalemia — a potentially life-threatening condition — when their potassium levels are less than 2.5 mmol/L.
Potassium helps to relay messages from the brain to the muscles that regulate muscle contractions. For example, low potassium levels can affect the muscles in the intestines, which then slows the passage of food and waste. In turn, this causes bloating and constipation.
High Blood Pressure
Low potassium levels can lead to an increase in blood pressure, particularly in people with a high sodium, or salt, intake. Potassium relaxes the blood vessels, which helps lower a person’s blood pressure.
Potassium also helps balance sodium levels in the body. A diet high in sodium is a common cause of high blood pressure. Doctors often recommend that people with high blood pressure lower their sodium intake and increase their potassium intake.
People with severe hypokalemia can experience muscle paralysis. When the levels of potassium in the body are very low, the muscles are unable to contract properly and may stop working altogether.
Potassium Deficiency: Breathing Problems
Severe hypokalemia can also lead to breathing problems. Breathing requires the use of several muscles, particularly the diaphragm. If a person’s potassium levels become very low, these muscles may not work properly. A person may have difficulty taking a deep breath or may feel very short of breath.
Potassium Deficiency: Irregular Heart Rates
Another symptom of low potassium levels is an irregular heart rhythm. Potassium plays an important role in regulating the contractions of all muscles, including the heart muscle.
Very low levels in the body can lead to irregular heart rhythms. If a person does not receive treatment, these conditions can be life-threatening.
Doctors can detect irregular heart rhythms using an electrocardiogram (EKG).
Potassium Deficiency: Restoring Levels With Diet
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily intake of potassium is:
- 3,400 milligrams (mg) for adult males
- 2,600 mg for adult females
Potassium occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, nuts and whole grains. The body absorbs around 85 to 90% of the potassium in food sources.
Examples of foods rich in potassium include:
- dried apricots
- cooked lentils
- dried prunes
- orange juice
- 1%-fat milk
- nonfat fruit yogurt
- cooked, chopped broccoli
- cooked brown rice