Potassium is an electrolyte, which together with sodium and chloride, conduct electricity when dissolved in water. Why is this important and necessary? Electrolytes maintain "water balance and distribution, acid-base balance, muscle and nerve cell function, heart function, and kidney and adrenal function" (1). Potassium helps keep your body from becoming too acidic. Because the American diet is full of meat, dairy products, and other foods which cause an acidic reaction, American's bodies are too acidic to heal themselves. For instance, cancer cannot exist in organs or tissues whose pH is above 5.7. So you can see why it is important to make sure there is enough potassium to keep the pH more alkaline. The best place to get potassium is in fresh fruits and vegetables. However, few Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables to maintain good health.
A high potassium, low sodium diet actually protects against cardiovascular diseases and cancer, while the reverse, a low potassium, high sodium diet actually can induce these diseases. Most Americans ingest twice as much sodium as potassium, a ratio of 2:1. However, the body actually requires a ration of 1:5, meaning that one should ingest at least five times more potassium than sodium. Potassium supplements would not be necessary if individuals would simply ingest more fruits and vegetables. That is because most fruits and vegetables have a ratio of at least 50:1, fifty times more potassium than sodium. With just the addition of a few fruits and vegetables, individuals could reap significant health benefits.
As an example, here are the ratios of Potassium to sodium in some foods:
Potatoes, 110:1 (2).
Potassium is also very important because it stimulates the kidneys to eliminate poisonous body wastes (3).
Excessive salt depletes the body of potassium; so does alcohol, coffee, excessive intake of sugar, prolonged diarrhea, excessive sweating, vomiting, low blood sugar, and use of diuretics (3). Also, as was discussed in the previous article, Magnesium: The Heart Helper , magnesium is required for potassium to be pumped into the cell, so an adequate magnesium level should be maintained also.
Potassium is available as potassium salts (chloride and bicarbonate), potassium bound to various mineral chelates (aspartate, citrate, etc.) or food-based potassium sources. There are problems with higher doses of potassium salts, so it is best to stick to food sources, or food-based supplements. There are some popular salt substitutes, NoSalt and Nu-Salt, which are potassium chloride and provide 530 milligrams of potassium per 1/8 teaspoon. When potassium salts are given in large dosages, this can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and ulcers. However, taking it from food sources alone does not cause this effect. In addition to eating lots of fruits and vegetables,
I would recommend to simply increase your fruits and vegetables, and make sure you are getting enough Calcium and Magnesium, and your magnesium pump should make sure that enough potassium is pumped into the cells if it is available.
Ailments which may benefit from potassium supplementation:
Potassium supplementation (other than with food-based sources) is contraindicated if one is taking digitalis, potassium-sparing diuretics, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor class of blood pressure-lowering drugs (4).
Nutritional Sources of Potassium:
Almost every fruit and vegetable contains potassium; unprocessed meats and fish also contain significant amounts of potassium, but because of their elevated sodium content, they do not provide as much health benefit as the vegetable sources. Also, the fact that the breakdown of animal products produces the very acidic condition which potassium is needed to correct means that it is unwise to consume animal products for the purpose of raising potassium levels.
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(1) Murray, Michael T. (1996). The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, p. 178.
(2) Murray, as above, p. 177.
(3) Dunne, Lavon J. (1990). Nutrition Almanac, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 84.
(4) Murray, as in (1) above, p. 180.