Potassium (K)

Brief description of

Potassium (K) is an essential dietary mineral and electrolyte. It is essential for the functioning of all living cells and, therefore, is present in all plant and animal tissues. Normal body function depends on the correct regulation of potassium concentration both inside and outside the cells. This trace element plays an important role in the regulation of electrical signals in the body (maintaining cellular polarity, signaling neurons, transmitting heart impulses and muscle contraction), in the transport of nutrients and metabolites, and in the activation of enzymes.[1,2].

History of discovery

As a mineral, potassium was first discovered in 1807 by the famous British chemist Humphrey Davy when he created a new type of battery. It was only in 1957 that an important step was made in understanding the role of potassium in cells of animal origin. Danish chemist Jens Skow, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997, made a discovery in the exchange of potassium, sodium and magnesium ions in crab cells, which gave impetus for further research of the mineral in other living organisms[3].

Potassium rich foods

Both plant and animal products are excellent sources of potassium. Potassium-rich plant foods include avocados, raw spinach, bananas, oats, and rye flour. Animal products are relatively rich in potassium – halibut, tuna, mackerel and salmon. Slightly less mineral is present in meats such as pork, beef, and chicken. White flour, eggs, cheese and rice contain very small amounts of potassium. Milk and orange juice are good sources of potassium, since we often consume them in large quantities.[1].

The approximate presence of mg in 100 g of the product is indicated:

Daily need

Since insufficient data exist to determine the estimated average requirement and therefore to calculate the recommended dietary intake for potassium, an adequate intake rate has been developed instead. NAP for potassium is based on a diet that should maintain lower blood pressure levels, reduce the adverse effects of sodium chloride intake on blood pressure, reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones, and possibly reduce bone loss. In healthy people, excess potassium above NAP is excreted in the urine.

Adequate Potassium Intake Rate (depending on age and gender):

The daily requirement increases:

  • for African Americans: Because African Americans have lower dietary potassium intakes and are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and salt sensitivity, this subpopulation is particularly in need of increased potassium intake;
  • in patients with type 1 diabetes or those taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs;
  • when playing sports: potassium is intensively excreted from the body with sweat;
  • when taking diuretics;
  • with a low-carb and high-protein diet: often with such a diet, fruits are not consumed, which contain alkalis necessary for the metabolism of potassium.

The daily requirement decreases:

  • in patients with chronic renal failure, end-stage renal disease, heart failure;
  • in pregnant women with preeclampsia, due to the risk of developing hyperkalemia with excessive intake of potassium into the body[4].

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Useful properties of potassium and its effect on the body

The health benefits of potassium:

Supports Brain Health

Potassium is very important for the health of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Potassium also plays a role in the osmotic balance between cells and intercellular fluid. This means that with a lack of potassium, the exchange of fluids in the body is disrupted. A nervous system disorder, combined with an increase in blood pressure and cerebral fluid due to low potassium content, can lead to severe headaches.


Proper nutrition for stroke

Reducing the risk of stroke

Because of the role of potassium in regulating the nervous system, heart function, and even water balance, a diet high in potassium helps reduce the risk of stroke. What’s more, this benefit has been shown to be stronger when potassium comes from natural food sources rather than supplements.

Improving heart health

Potassium is needed for well-coordinated muscle work. The cycles of contraction and relaxation of the muscles, including the heart, depend on the metabolism of potassium. Mineral deficiency can play a role in the development of arrhythmias or irregular heartbeat.

Lower blood pressure

There is a mechanism in the human body known as sodium-potassium metabolism. It is essential for cellular metabolism, fluid balance and proper heart function. The modern diet is most often practically devoid of potassium and contains a high amount of sodium. This imbalance leads to high blood pressure.

Support of bone health

Studies have shown that potassium, found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, plays an important role in improving bone health. Potassium has been found to reduce bone resorption, the process by which bone breaks down. Consequently, an adequate amount of potassium leads to an increase in bone strength.

Preventing muscle cramps

As noted, potassium is essential for muscle function and fluid regulation in the body. Without enough potassium, muscles can spasm. In addition, consuming potassium-rich foods on a regular basis can help with menstrual cramps.

Not only does eating tasty fruits, vegetables, and legumes rich in potassium help prevent muscle cramps, it also reduces muscle weakness and fatigue. This provides more energy to move through the day and make the most of your time. For athletes with a stricter athletic schedule, getting as much potassium from food as possible will help overall performance. This means potassium-rich foods should be present in every meal and snack, as well as in concentrated and restorative shakes.


Proper nutrition against cellulite

Help in the fight against cellulite

We often associate the presence of cellulite with high fat intake and low physical activity. However, one of the main factors, besides genetics, is also the accumulation of fluid in the body. This occurs with increased salt intake and insufficient potassium intake. Try adding more potassium-rich foods to your diet on a regular basis and you will see how cellulite decreases and your overall health improves.

Maintaining a healthy weight

One of the most important benefits of adequate potassium intake, among others, is its effect on healthy body weight levels. This effect is seen because potassium helps to heal weak and tired muscles, improves heart health, helps the nervous system, and maintains fluid balance in the body. In addition, foods rich in potassium are usually nutritious and low-calorie – there is simply no room for “junk” food in the stomach.

Potassium metabolism

Potassium is the main intracellular cation in the body. Although the mineral is found in both intracellular and extracellular fluids, it is more concentrated within cells. Even small changes in the concentration of extracellular potassium can greatly affect the ratio of extracellular to intracellular potassium. This, in turn, affects nerve transmission, muscle contraction and vascular tone.

In unprocessed foods, potassium is found primarily in association with precursors such as citrate and, to a lesser extent, phosphate. When potassium is added to food during processing or to vitamins, it is in the form of potassium chloride.

A healthy body absorbs about 85 percent of its dietary potassium. A high intracellular concentration of potassium is maintained by sodium-potassium-ATPase metabolism. Since it is stimulated by insulin, changes in plasma insulin concentration can affect extracellular potassium concentration and therefore plasma potassium concentration.

About 77-90 percent of potassium is excreted in the urine. This is because at steady state the correlation between dietary potassium intake and urinary potassium content is quite high. The rest is excreted mainly through the intestines, and much less is excreted in sweat.[4].

Interaction with other trace elements:

  • Sodium chloride: potassium q softens the pressor effect of sodium chloride. Dietary potassium increases the excretion of sodium chloride in the urine.
  • Sodium: potassium and sodium are closely related, and if the ratio of the two elements is not correct, the risk of kidney stones and hypertension may increase[4].
  • Calcium: potassium improves calcium reabsorption and also has a positive effect on bone mineral density.
  • Magnesium: magnesium is needed for optimal potassium metabolism in cells, and the correct ratio of mania, calcium and potassium can reduce the risk of stroke[5].

Healthy food combinations with potassium

Yogurt + Banana: A combination of potassium-rich foods with protein helps in the growth of muscle tissue and the restoration of amino acids that are lost during physical activity. This dish can be eaten both for breakfast and as a post-workout snack.[8].

Carrots + Tahini: Carrots are considered extremely healthy – they contain healthy carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins A, B, K and potassium. Tahini (sesame paste) also contains a lot of vitamins and minerals as well as protein. The fiber in tahini helps to reduce calorie intake as well as anti-inflammatory and gut health.

Olives + Tomatoes: Olives act as an excellent source of fiber, which supports the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and stimulates the intestines. Tomatoes, in turn, contain the unique antioxidant lycopene, as well as vitamin A, iron and potassium.[7].

Cooking rules for foods with potassium

During food processing of products containing potassium, a large amount of it is lost. This is due to the high solubility of potassium salts in water. For example, boiled spinach, from which excess liquid has been removed using a colander, contains 17% less potassium than its raw version. And the difference in the amount of potassium between raw and boiled kale is almost 50%[1].

Use in official medicine

As medical studies show, high potassium intake has a protective effect against a number of pathologies affecting the cardiovascular system, kidneys and skeleton.

In addition, there is growing evidence that increasing the amount of potassium in the diet has a positive effect on muscle function, overall health and the frequency of falls.[10].


Positive dynamics in the growth of bone mineral density was noted in women at the age of pre-, post- and menopause, as well as older men, who consumed from 3000 to 3400 mg of potassium per day.

Potassium-rich foods (fruits and vegetables) usually also contain many bicarbonate precursors. These buffering acids are found in the body to stabilize acidity levels. Western diets today tend to be more acidic (fish, meats, and cheeses) and less alkaline (fruits and vegetables). To stabilize the body’s pH, the alkaline calcium salts in the bones are released to neutralize the acids consumed. Eating more fruits and vegetables with potassium lowers the total acid content in the diet and may help maintain healthy bone calcium levels.


Doctors associate a decrease in the incidence of strokes with a higher intake of potassium, as indicated by several large-scale epidemiological studies.

Overall, the evidence suggests that slightly increasing your intake of potassium-rich foods can significantly reduce your risk of stroke. This is especially true for people with high blood pressure and / or relatively low potassium intake.

Salt substitutes

Many salt substitutes contain potassium chloride as a substitute for some or all of the sodium chloride in salt. The potassium content in these products varies widely – from 440 to 2800 mg of potassium per teaspoon. People with kidney disease or using certain medications should check with their healthcare professional before taking salt substitutes due to the risk of hyperkalemia caused by high potassium levels in these foods.[9].

Kidney stones

There is an increased risk of kidney stones among people with high urinary calcium levels. It can also be associated with a lack of potassium. Urinary calcium excretion can be reduced by increasing calcium intake or by adding potassium bicarbonate[2].

Potassium is often found in dietary supplements as potassium chloride, but many other forms are also used – including potassium citrate, phosphate, aspartate, bicarbonate, and gluconate. The dietary supplement label usually indicates the amount of elemental potassium in the product, not the weight of the total potassium-containing compound. Some dietary supplements contain microgram amounts of potassium iodide, but this ingredient serves as a form of mineral iodine, not potassium.

Not all multivitamin / mineral supplements contain potassium, but those that do usually include about 80 mg of potassium. There are also potassium-only supplements available, and most contain up to 99 mg of the mineral.

Many manufacturers and distributors of nutritional supplements limit the amount of potassium in their products to only 99 mg (which is only about 3% of the RDA). Some oral medications that contain potassium chloride are thought to be unsafe because they are associated with damage to the small intestine.

Potassium during pregnancy

Potassium plays an important role in maintaining the balance of fluids and electrolytes in the cells of the body. In addition, it is responsible for sending nerve impulses, helping muscle contraction. Blood volume increases by up to 50% during pregnancy, so the body needs more electrolytes (sodium, potassium and chloride interacting) to maintain the correct chemical balance in fluids. If a pregnant woman has leg muscle cramps, one of the reasons may be a lack of potassium. During pregnancy, hypokalemia can be observed primarily due to the fact that a woman loses a lot of fluid during morning sickness in the early months. Hyperkalemia is also very dangerous during pregnancy, as it can lead to quite serious heart problems. Fortunately, it is less common in practice and is mainly associated with kidney failure, alcohol or drug use, extreme dehydration, and type 1 diabetes.[11,12].

Application in folk medicine

In folk recipes, potassium plays an important role in the treatment of diseases of the heart, gastrointestinal tract, osteoporosis, nervous system and kidneys.

A well-known remedy against many diseases is a solution of potassium permanganate (the so-called “potassium permanganate”). For example, folk healers suggest taking it for dysentery – inside and in the form of an enema. It should be noted that this solution must be used with great care, as an incorrect dose or poorly mixed solution can lead to serious chemical burns.[13].

Folk recipes mention the intake of potassium-rich foods for heart problems and water disorders. One of these products, for example, is sprouted grains. They contain potassium salts, as well as many other beneficial trace elements[14].

For kidney health, traditional medicine, among other things, advises to consume grapes rich in glucose and potassium salts. It is also a good remedy for diseases of the heart, bronchi, liver, gout, nervous exhaustion and anemia.[15].

Potassium in the latest scientific research

  • Herbs, including cilantro, have a long history of use as anticonvulsants in traditional medicine. Until now, many of the basic mechanisms of how herbs work have remained unknown. In a recent study, scientists discovered a new molecular action that allows cilantro to effectively delay certain seizures typical of epilepsy and other diseases. “We found that cilantro, which is used as an unconventional anticonvulsant drug, activates a class of potassium channels in the brain that reduce seizure activity,” said Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of California-Irvine School of Medicine. “Specifically, we found that one component of cilantro, called the dodecanal, binds to a specific portion of the potassium channels to open them, reducing cell excitability. This particular discovery is important because it could lead to more effective use of cilantro as an anticonvulsant, or a modification of dodecanal to develop safer and more effective anticonvulsant drugs. ”“ In addition to its anticonvulsant properties, cilantro also has potential for anti-cancer. anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial, cardioprotective, and pain-relieving effects, “the scientists added. [sixteen].
  • Recently, a new study was published on the causes of death from cardiovascular disease. Scientists have come to the conclusion that inadequate intake of vegetables and fruits leads to an incredible number of deaths each year – we are talking about millions of people. It was found that in about 1 out of 7 cases, death from diseases of the heart and blood vessels could be prevented by the timely introduction of a sufficient amount of fruit into the diet, and in 1 out of 12 – by eating vegetables. As you know, fresh fruits and vegetables contain a storehouse of useful substances – fiber, potassium, magnesium, antioxidants, phenols. All of these trace minerals help maintain normal blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. In addition, they maintain the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract. People who eat large amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits are also less likely to be obese or overweight, and potassium plays one of the most important roles in this. Scientists have found that in order to avoid the risk of cardiovascular disease, the optimal amount of fruit that should be consumed per day is 300 grams – which is about two small apples. As for vegetables, there should be 400 grams of them in the daily diet. Moreover, the best way of cooking is raw. For example, to fulfill the norm, it will be enough to eat one raw medium-sized carrot, and one tomato[17].
  • Researchers have been able to identify the cause of a recently discovered serious illness that causes epileptic seizures in children, loss of magnesium in the urine and a decrease in intelligence. Using genetic analysis, the researchers found that the disease was caused by a recent mutation in one of four forms of sodium potassium metabolism known as sodium potassium adenosine triphosphatase. New knowledge about the disease is likely to mean that doctors in the future will be more aware that magnesium deficiency combined with epilepsy may be caused by genetic defects in sodium-potassium metabolism.[18].

For losing weight

Traditionally, potassium has not been perceived as a weight loss aid. However, with the study of its mechanisms of action and functions, this opinion begins to gradually change. Potassium helps in weight loss through three main mechanisms:

  1. 1 Potassium helps improve metabolism and energy: it provides our body with the components it needs to provide energy during physical activity and helps it use metabolism-boosting nutrients – iron, magnesium and calcium.
  2. 2 Potassium helps to gain muscle mass: When combined with magnesium, it helps in muscle contraction and growth. And the stronger the muscles, the more calories they burn.
  3. 3 Potassium prevents excessive retention of fluids in the body: together with sodium, potassium helps maintain the exchange of fluids in the body, the excess of which also adds the number of kilograms on the scales[20].

Use in cosmetology

Potassium is often found in a variety of cosmetics. There are many forms in which it is used – potassium aspartate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium bromate, potassium castorate, potassium chloride, potassium hydroxide, potassium silicate, potassium sterate, etc. These compounds are most commonly used in cosmetics, oral hygiene and hair products. Depending on the specific compound, it can act as a conditioner, acidity regulator, antiseptic, stabilizer, emulsifier and thickener. Potassium lactate has a moisturizing effect due to its ability to bind water molecules and the breakdown products of an amino acid called serine. Many potassium compounds in high doses can cause irritation and burns and can be carcinogenic [19].

Interesting Facts

  • Potassium nitrate (saltpeter) was used in the Middle Ages to store food.
  • In China in the 9th century, potassium nitrate was part of gunpowder.
  • Potassium salts are included in most fertilizers.
  • The name “potassium” comes from the Arabic term “alkali” (alkaline substances). In English, potassium is called potassium – from the word “pot ash” (ash from a pot), since the primary method of extracting potassium salts was the processing of ash.
  • About 2,4% of the earth’s crust is made up of potassium.
  • Potassium chloride compound, which is part of medicines for the treatment of hypokalemia, is poisonous in large quantities and can be fatal[21].

Contraindications and cautions

Signs of a lack of potassium

Low plasma potassium (“hypokalemia”) is most often the result of excessive potassium loss, for example, due to prolonged vomiting, the use of certain diuretics, some forms of kidney disease, or metabolic disorders.

Conditions that increase the risk of hypokalemia include diuretic use, alcoholism, severe vomiting or diarrhea, overuse or abuse of laxatives, anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, magnesium deficiency, and congestive heart failure.

Low dietary potassium intake usually does not lead to hypokalemia.

Symptoms of abnormally low plasma potassium levels (“hypokalemia”) are associated with changes in membrane potential and cellular metabolism; these include fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps, bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain. Severe hypokalemia can lead to loss of muscle function or an irregular heartbeat, which can be fatal[2].

Signs of excess potassium

In healthy people, an excess of potassium from food, as a rule, does not occur. However, in excess, vitamins and dietary supplements that include potassium can be toxic and in excellent health. Chronic high intake of potassium supplements can lead to hyperkalemia, especially in people with elimination problems. The most serious symptom of this disease is cardiac arrhythmia, which can result in cardiac arrest. In addition, some potassium supplements can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Other symptoms of hyperkalemia include numbness in the hands and feet, muscle weakness, and temporary loss of muscle function (paralysis)[2].

Interaction with medicines

Certain medications can affect potassium levels in the body. For example, medications taken to treat hypertension and heart failure in patients with chronic kidney disease or type 2 diabetes can reduce the amount of potassium excreted in the urine and, as a result, lead to hyperkalemia. Diuretics have the same effect. Experts advise monitoring potassium levels in patients taking these drugs[2].

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Information sources
  1. “”. Nutrient Metabolism. Elsevier Ltd, 2003, pp 655-660. ISBN: 978-0-12-417762-8
  2. Potassium. Nutri-Facts Source
  3. Newman, D. (2000). Potassium. In K. Kiple & K. Ornelas (Eds.), The Cambridge World History of Food (pp. 843-848). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI:10.1017/CHOL978052149.096
  4. Linda D. Meyers, Jennifer Pitzi Hellwig, Jennifer J. Otten, and Institute of Medicine. “Potassium”. Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. National Academies, 2006. 370-79.
  5. Vitamin and Mineral Interactions: The Complex Relationship of Essential Nutrients,
  6. Top Potassium-Rich Foods and How They Benefit You,
  7. 13 Food Combinations That Can Speed Up Your Weight Loss,
  8. 7 Food Combos You Must Try for Better Nutrition,
  9. Potassium. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements,
  10. Lanham-New, Susan A et al. “Potassium.” Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.) vol. 3,6 820-1. 1 Nov. 2012, DOI:10.3945/an.112.003012
  11. Potassium in your pregnancy diet,
  12. Potassium and Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know,
  13. The Complete Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine. Volume 1. OLMA Media Group. P. 200.
  14. Great Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine. OLMA Media Group, 2009. p. 32.
  15. G. V. Lavrenova, V. D. Onipko. Encyclopedia of Folk Medicine. OLMA Media Group, 2003. p. 43.
  16. Rían W. Manville, Geoffrey W. Abbott. Cilantro leaf harbors a potent potassium channel–activating anticonvulsant. The FASEB Journal, 2019; fj.201900485R DOI:10.1096/fj.201900485R
  17. American Society for Nutrition. “Millions of cardiovascular deaths attributed to not eating enough and : Study tracks toll of suboptimal fruit and vegetable intake by region, age and gender.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 June 2019. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190610100624.htm
  18. Karl P. Schlingmann, Sascha Bandulik, Mothers, Maja Tarailo-Graovac, Rikke Holm, Matthias Baumann, Jens König, Jessica JY Lee, Britt Drögemöller, Katrin Imminger, Bodo B. Beck, Janine Altmüller, Holger Thiele, Siegfried Waldegger, William van’t Hoff, Robert Kleta, Richard Warth, Clara DM van Karnebeek, Bente Vilsen, Detlef Bockenhauer, Martin Konrad. Germline De Novo Mutations in ATP1A1 Cause Renal Hypomagnesemia, Refractory Seizures, and Intellectual Disability. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 2018; 103 (5): 808 DOI: 10.1016 / j.ajhg.2018.10.004
  19. Ruth Winter. A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, 7th Edition: Complete Information About the Harmful and Desirable Ingredients Found in Cosmetics and Cosmeceuticals. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale, 2009. Pp 425-429
  20. Three Ways Potassium Helps You Lose Weight,
  21. Facts about Potassium, source
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