What does potassium do? Why do we need it?

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Potassium rich foodsPotassium does many important functions in the body. This essential mineral is mainly found inside the cells of our body. Low potassium levels are associated with many health conditions including hypertension, irregular heart beat, and muscle weakness. We should take adequate amounts of potassium rich foods for a healthy life.

Potassium is essential for the heart

We need potassium to maintain the blood pressure within normal range. There should be a balance between sodium and potassium in the body to regulate our blood pressure. Too much sodium and too little potassium can elevate your blood pressure.

In addition, potassium is needed for the contraction of the heart. Potassium levels in the blood should be kept nearly constant or within a narrow range for the proper pumping action of the heart. The heart may stop beating if we have high or low levels of potassium in the blood.

We need potassium for stronger muscles

Most of the potassium in the body is found inside the muscle cells. It is the main positively charged ion inside the cells. It is essential for the contraction of muscles. Low levels of potassium is associated with muscle twitching, cramps and muscle weakness. Very low levels can cause paralysis of the muscles.

Hypokalemic periodic paralysis is a disorder that causes occasional episodes of muscle weakness and paralysis caused by lower levels of potassium in the blood. It is a genetic condition that runs in families.

It is essential for nerve conduction

Sodium and potassium are needed to maintain the electrical potential across the nerve cells. This electrical charge is essential for the conduction of nerve signals along the nerves.

It protects from stroke

Researchers found eating potassium rich foods is associated with reduced incidents of stroke. A recent study conducted among post menopausal women supports the findings. One of the co-researchers says “post-menopausal women should eat more potassium-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, milk and unprocessed meats in order to lower their risk of stroke and death”.

It is important for water and electrolyte balance in the body

Water and electrolyte balance is maintained by the kidneys. This is one of the important functions of the kidneys. Aldosteron, a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands plays the primary role in the balance of sodium and potassium.

The normal blood level of potassium is 3.5 to 5 mmol/l. A level of less than 3.5 is called hypokalemia, and more than 5 is called hyperkalemia. To achieve the normal blood level, we need to take about 4 to 5 grams of potassium per day. An average size banana will provide about 25% of daily requirement.

It is recommended to eat foods that have plenty of potassium. In addition, your diet should contain low amounts of sodium (salt). Taking supplements is not a good idea. It can cause many side effects.

People who have certain medical conditions such as chronic kidney failure should not eat large amounts of potassium rich foods.

People who take certain types of medications should consult a doctor about their potassium intake. Some may need additional intake, while others may need to restrict the intake of potassium rich foods.


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