Along with magnesium, potassium is a primary nutrient within our cells aiding normal electrical activity for muscle contractions and efficient heart function. Cell to cell communication simply cannot take place effectively if potassium levels are low.
Having tested many patients (RBC potassium) I have found a significant percentage to be deficient, especially in the female population.
Primarily potassium is stored inside the cells but to transport it to where it is required is enormously energy demanding and utilises around 40% of ATP reserves. I find not surprisingly, that people suffering from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and general tiredness have significant deficiencies.
Although those with minor deficiencies can be symptom-free, more severe deficiency can be associated with the following conditions;
- Increased Blood Pressure
An imbalance between sodium and potassium can increase blood volume and as a result blood pressure rises. The more potassium you get from your diet, the more sodium you excrete in urine which will then decrease blood volume and systemic pressure. Potassium can also relax the smooth muscles within the vessel walls which helps further reduce blood pressure.
- Irregular Heart Beat
A more severe potassium deficiency can cause heart palpitations. The efficient movement of potassium and sodium within cardiac cells efficiently regulates heartbeat. A lack of potassium can affect electrical conductivity in these cells and result in irregular contractions.
- Muscle Cramps
As potassium is an electrolyte involved in muscle contractions, deficiency can extend the duration of these contractions causing often severe cramping. Magnesium deficiency can also be a factor too and often patients are deficient in both minerals.
We’ve already established that potassium is important for efficient muscular contractions. When your potassium is low, the muscles in your colon don't move as much and can lead to constipation
Research shows that potassium deficiency inhibits your ability to produce insulin which in turn leads to elevated blood sugar levels. The huge fluctuations in blood glucose levels that can occur especially following meals can be exhausting and deplete energy reserves resulting in low energy levels and fatigue.
The UK RDA for potassium is 3,500mg. Dietary analysis of my clients reveals many ingest as little as 1,500mg. Increasing dietary sources of potassium would be a good first step if you suspect you are not getting adequate amounts here are some good sources;
Interestingly Dr Ben Lynch author of the bestselling book Dirty Genes highlights an interesting symptom related to potassium deficiency. If you react poorly to folate or B12 supplements for the treatment of anaemia but actually feel worse this could indicate a potassium deficiency. Increased cell division (mytosis) drives the demand for potassium, which is a requirement in this process, thereby creating further deficiency and making low potassium symptoms worse.
Should you choose supplementation to further optimise potassium levels Seeking Health’s Optimal Potassium Powder is an excellent choice with a small scoop providing 500mg of this essential mineral. Remember to always take supplemental potassium with food. The action of insulin in response to eating helps transport potassium into the cell where it's needed.