The health benefits of potassium on the body span across all the major systems and organs of the body.
- protect your brain from stroke
- maintain normal blood pressure
- prevent heart and kidney diseases
- maintain muscle and nervous system function
- maintain water and electrolyte balance
- fight anxiety and mental stress
Make sure you incorporate the foods listed below that will give you a good supply of this powerful mineral.
For people with low potassium, doctors sometimes prescribe potassium supplements to augment its supply from the diet in order to prevent or treat health conditions that arise out of potassium deficiency (hypokalemia).
What is potassium?
Potassium is a naturally occurring major essential mineral and an electrolyte necessary for life. It is a chemical element symbolized by the letter K (in capitals) and the atomic number 19. It is not a vitamin.
It was first derived from potash, which refers to plant ashes soaked in water in a pot, the primary way of manufacturing the fertilizer potash earlier, before the industrial production era. The name potassium is derived from the word potash.
It is one of the most important nutrients essential for good health.
Potential Health Benefits of Potassium
Potassium supports digestive and kidney health regulates blood pressure and helps build strong bones. It’s especially important for your heart, too. Its functions and benefits are described below:
Maintains water balance
Potassium plays an important role in maintaining the balance of fluid in our body. It does this by regulating the amount of sodium entering and leaving our body cells. This helps it to maintain the optimum pH levels in our body and maintain the acid-base balance.
Optimum pH helps the cellular processes to run at their required rate. These cellular processes include transforming energy, processing and transporting energy, and reproducing.
Improves muscle and nerve strength and their function
Potassium controls the functioning of the nerves and muscles. Along with sodium, it helps in the transmission of the nerve signals in the body.
Potassium is also necessary for the normal muscle activity of contraction and relaxation.
It ensures proper growth of muscle tissues including skeletal muscles such as the big leg muscles and smooth muscles such as the small eye muscles and those of the heart. An inadequate amount of potassium in the body can lead to heart problems.
Each cell in your body, whether in the nerve or muscle, relies on potassium to support cellular metabolism and function. This mineral helps in the movement of nutrients into the cells and the waste out of the cells.
Most of the potassium in the body is present in the cells of the body including those of muscles, nerves, and bones. About 98 percent of the 120 grams of potassium in the body is found within the cells. Any excess is excreted out through the kidneys.
Adequate levels of potassium promote more oxygen to reach the cells including those of the brain. This helps the optimum functioning of nervous system activity and the brain, thereby increasing cognitive function (memory and learning). It also maintains good reflexes.
Regulates blood pressure and heart function
Potassium helps to control heart function and regulate blood pressure. This is one of the most important functions of this mineral and electrolyte.
It does this by offsetting the action of sodium, which is known to be responsible for raising blood pressure. Potassium also has vasodilating properties, which help relieve the tension in the blood vessels. Potassium lowers the risk of heart disease and cerebrovascular accidents such as stroke.
Due to its vasodilating properties, the dilated blood vessels promote more blood supply and this helps to prevent heart attack and stroke.
Potassium increases bone strength and prevents osteoporosis
Appropriate levels of this mineral also help prevent osteoporosis, one of the most common problems of old age.
It does this by preventing the excess loss of calcium through the kidneys, thereby making more calcium available to build strong bones and joints. Eating foods high in potassium, therefore, helps to increase bone density, bone strength, and bone life.
Potassium benefits on diabetes: Stabilizes blood sugar levels
Hypokalemia (decreased potassium levels) causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). Administration of potassium and sodium provides immediate relief from the hypoglycemia symptoms such as sweating, headache, weakness, and tremors.
That is why diabetic patients must maintain normal potassium levels to prevent unstable blood sugar behavior of spikes and drops.
Prevents muscle cramps
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that a deficiency of electrolytes such as potassium can cause muscle cramps, particularly in your legs.
Muscle cramps in the legs are common. People who suffer from muscle cramps have low potassium in their body. On taking its supplements, this condition is cured. The supplements contain potassium gluconate form of this electrolyte.
Alternately, they can eat two ripe bananas every day. Bananas are a rich source of potassium.
Helps in the synthesis of proteins
We obtain our protein directly from plants or indirectly from animals who get it from eating plants. Protein is mainly composed of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen of which nitrogen is the key to protein synthesis.
Though protein does not contain potassium, this mineral is required in its synthesis at every stage of protein synthesis.
- Potassium helps in the enzyme activation, which is necessary for the production of nitrogen.
- It helps in the synthesis of certain plant compounds, which supply energy for nitrogen synthesis.
- It stimulates the uptake of nitrogen from the plant roots and it helps its movement to those parts of the plant where protein synthesis takes place.
Potassium fights depression and reduces anxiety and stress
By its regulating action on the body’s various stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, potassium helps you fight mental stress and anxiety.
These mental disorders can be detrimental to you in so many ways including stressing out your brain, heart, blood pressure and causing metabolic disorders such as diabetes. Low levels of potassium (hypokalemia) cause mental fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
According to a 2008 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, a low-sodium and high-potassium diet appears to have a positive effect on the overall mood.
Potassium benefits on weight loss
Potassium deficiency can cause fatigue and make your muscles tire easily and get cramps.
Potassium ensures strong muscles and nerves and prevents muscle cramps making you capable of more physical activity and helping you lose that many more calories. This is how potassium helps you lose weight.
Why is potassium beneficial to athletes?
As mentioned above, potassium is vital in the synthesis of proteins in the body and proteins mean better muscle building and stamina. Potassium also optimizes the contraction and relaxation of the muscles.
By maintaining the electrolyte and fluid balance along with sodium, controlling the electrical activity of the heart and other muscles, it builds a strong heart and along with strong muscles, this can be of great value for runners.
What foods can give you potassium?
Some foods that can give a good supply of potassium and which you should incorporate into your daily food list include:
- Nuts, like almonds and peanuts
- Citrus fruits (think oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit)
- Leafy, green vegetables
- Milk. Nonfat milk is highest in potassium. Goat’s milk is a better source than cow’s milk,
- Potatoes preferably with skin