What Is Potassium Needed for in the Human Body?

White beans, which are a good source of potassium.
Low potassium intake can contribute to heart disease.
Avocados contain potassium.
Potassium is listed as K in the periodic table.
Orange juice contains potassium.
Article Details
  • Written By: A.E. Jaquith
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Potassium, K on the periodic table of elements, is a chemical element that is crucial to the human body. In its raw form, it is a silvery white alkalic metal.

Without the proper amount of potassium, a person can suffer from an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, arthritis, digestive disorders, and infertility. For those who eat a balanced, healthy diet, a lower intake should not be a significant problem. Athletes, smokers, or those that have eating disorders are at higher risk for deficiency.

Potassium aids muscle contraction; low levels can cause the muscles to cramp. It is a primary contributor to action potentials, which are the signals the brain sends to the muscles via the nervous system. A key element of membrane polarization, potassium helps muscles return to a resting state after exertion. Without the proper amount of this mineral in the body, muscles can become weakened, and are often sore after physical exertion. By increasing levels in the body, aches and pains from exercise can be reduced. If proper levels of potassium are not maintained, there are several potentially fatal outcomes, such as hypokalemia, which can result in heart arrhythmia.

This element is also necessary for maintaining the correct balance of water electrolytes inside the human body. Working with sodium, potassium transports essential body fluids and electrolytes throughout the circulatory system. Extremely large amounts of of the mineral are processed and reabsorbed through the liver daily.

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Though supplements can be used to compensate for low levels, there is a large variety of foods and drinks that contain it naturally. A diet that includes bananas, avocados, nuts, leafy greens, milk, orange juice, and potatoes will help maintain healthy levels. In extreme circumstances when a potassium supplement is recommended by a doctor, there are some potential health risks that should be recognized.

Those with diabetes or heart conditions should consult a doctor before using a potassium supplement. Additionally, individuals with kidney diseases, Addison's Disease, and stomach ulcers should always consult their doctor before using supplements.

It is possible to overdose on this mineral, and it should be avoided. Symptoms include confusion, tingling limbs, and a weak heart beat. If you exhibit signs of overdose, or suspect that you have overdosed, seek professional medical attention immediately.

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Discuss this Article

anon355813
Post 5

What is the highest amount of potassium you can take, before it becomes deadly?

PurpleSpark
Post 4

@dinoleash: I found it interesting when looking for high potassium foods, that apricots have more potassium in them than our famous banana. A dried apricot has 814 mg of potassium and the banana has 467. I always thought that bananas topped the list!

For juices, carrot juice rocks! It has 689 mg of potassium where tomato juice only has 535.

How about our veggies? Topping out at 1,309 mg of potassium is…..beet greens. Right under that with a whopping 1,189 mg of potassium are our white beans.

StormyKnight
Post 3

@dinoleash: Peaches have a pretty good amount of potassium in them. One peach has 165 mg of potassium. They also contain beta carotene and combined with Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium, is said to be beneficial in lowering high-density lipoprotein which could improve the health of patients with hypertension.

Let’s not forget their anti-oxidant properties.

WaterHopper
Post 2

@dinoleash: My favorite potassium rich fruit is the papaya. 1 papaya has 781 mg of potassium in it. It is loaded with potassium! There are so many other benefits as well.

The milk in the unripe fruit, leaves, and stems is anthelmintic, which means that it contains a substance that destroys worms that could be in the intestines. It is beneficial to diabetics, helps to aid digestion. It protects against infection. These health benefits are the result of an enzyme called papain. While the papaya is still on the tree, the skin of the unripe fruit is very lightly scratched to let a little papain ooze out just under the skin. It is then gathered in receptacles for pharmaceutical use.

DinoLeash
Post 1

What other foods contain high amounts of potassium?

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