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Potassium plays a major role in keeping your body running efficiently. This electrolyte supports the proper functioning of your nervous, heart, kidney and muscle systems. Potassium and another major electrolyte, sodium, are excreted through sweat, which can cause temporary deficiencies. While it’s possible to obtain a sufficient amount of potassium through your diet, some people may need potassium supplements. Before increasing your potassium intake, though, talk to your doctor to learn about potential health risks.

Recommendations

Because low potassium levels are rare, there is no Recommended Daily Allowance set for potassium intake. The Institute of Medicine has issued an Adequate Intake guideline regarding potassium, indicating that the average adult should obtain 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily to support optimum health. Talk to your doctor about your individual potassium needs. Food sources are the best way to maintain sufficient potassium levels.

Sources

Potassium is found primarily in fruits and vegetables such as Swiss chard, spinach, cantaloupe and bananas. To maintain a healthy potassium and sodium balance, focus on whole, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and avoid high-sodium processed foods whenever possible. (Note that overcooking vegetables in water will cause a great reduction in potassium.) Most people are able to achieve an adequate amount of potassium through their diet, but for those with poor diets or who are on medications resulting in low potassium levels, potassium supplements are available; consult your doctor, though, before starting this or any dietary supplement.

Benefits

Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, supports optimum electrolyte levels and is vital for cardiac health. Maintaining sufficient potassium levels may reduce stroke risk. The nervous system requires potassium to relay critical impulses throughout your body. Potassium can support kidney system functioning by helping maintain a healthy blood pressure rate and reducing the risk of kidney stones. Potassium plays a role in protecting the bones by neutralizing metabolic acids, which helps your bones retain calcium.

Cautions

Getting too much or too little potassium can be harmful. According to MayoClinic.com, a normal potassium level ranges from 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Insufficient potassium intake (below 2.5 mmol/L) can cause hypokalemia. Left untreated, hypokalemia can cause muscle issues, mental confusion and fatigue and ultimately lead to paralysis and heart abnormalities. Abnormally high potassium levels (above 7.0 mmol/L) can cause hyperkalemia. This condition is most commonly associated with kidney deficiencies. Hyperkalemia is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition and requires prompt medical attention. The bottom line is to discuss your individual potassium needs with your doctor.

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