#308 9 Signs You Aren’t Getting Enough Potassium

9 Signs You Aren’t Getting Enough Potassium

By Kate Clemens

I was surprised to hear from Dr. John Day, the author of “The Longevity Plan” and “The AFib Cure”, that most patients in his practice aren’t getting enough potassium in their diet.  He even tracked his own potassium intake with the Cronometer app and learned how hard it is to get the recommended daily amount – which will be noted later in this article. 

It makes one wonder, could the potassium deficiency in our diets account for the 90% chance of becoming hypertensive by age 55?  This shocking statistic stems from the Framingham Heart study investigators who concluded that the residual lifetime risk for hypertension for middle-aged and elderly individuals is 90%. Even more alarming is a study that shows low potassium may increase your risk for atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia, fourfold.   Let’s delve a bit deeper into this chemical element that is oh so important for our well being! 

Potassium: What is it?

Potassium is the primary cation (positive ion) within your cells – in fact this is where more than 90% of your total body stores reside.  So many enzymatic reactions are activated by potassium.  

Sufficient potassium is essential in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. It is not surprising that this vital electrolyte has many other essential roles. Potassium is a key player in the transmission of nerve impulses, kidney function, gastric secretion, and the contraction of all types of muscle tissue. 

It’s worth pointing out that potassium plays a critical role in the transmission of electrical impulses in the heart. Thus, potassium levels have to be carefully monitored as hypokalemia (low potassium levels) or hyperkalemia (high potassium levels) may cause life-threatening arrhythmias.

The 9 Signs You Aren’t Getting Enough Potassium

1. Heart palpitations

2. Atrial fibrillation

3. High blood pressure

4. Muscle cramps and spasms

5. Weakness and fatigue

6. Tingling and numbness

7. Breathing difficulties

8. Mood changes

9. Digestive problems

What Causes Low Potassium?

It is important to keep in mind the above symptoms will generally only be present with significantly low levels of potassium in the blood – which is known as hypokalemia.   While possible this could definitely occur from too little potassium in your diet, most often hypokalemia (low potassium levels) occurs from taking a diuretic. Other common causes of hypokalemia include the following: vomiting, excessive sweating, low magnesium levels, alcoholism, adrenal gland disorder, asthma medications like albuterol, laxatives, high levels of ketones in your blood like with diabetic ketoacidosis, and antibiotics such as penicillin or ampicillin.

What Causes High Potassium?

The number one cause of hyperkalemia or high potassium levels is kidney dysfunction. Next in line is taking too much potassium supplements or potassium sparing diuretics, such as spironolactone or aldactone. Other causes include dehydration, beta-blockers, and the commonly prescribed blood pressure medications ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers.

Where Should Your Potassium Levels Be?

Normally, your blood potassium level is 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).   However, with regard to atrial fibrillation risk, you will want to keep your levels as close to 4 mmol/L as possible.  

How Much Potassium Should You Eat Each Day?

Like any nutrient, recommended daily intake levels for potassium are based on age and gender.   Here are the most recent adult recommendations determined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: 3,400 milligrams/day for males and 2,600 milligrams/day for females. However, for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding the recommendation increases to 2,800–2,900 milligrams/day.

How Do You Know How Much Potassium You’re Getting?

Are you curious whether or not your potassium intake is adequate for your needs? Why not devote a few days to tracking for free!  www.cronometer.com is a great resource that will allow you to do this easily and at no cost.  You simply need to provide a valid email address and create an account, which takes only 1 minute.  Go for it!

Whether you decide to track your potassium or not, below is a table with foods that surely pack a potassium punch.  

13 Potassium Packed Foods

 

                FOOD    SERVING SIZE     Potassium CONTENT
SPINACH (BOILED)   1C   839 mg 
SWISS CHARD (BOILED)   1C   96 1mg
SWEET POTATO   1 large   855 mg
BEET GREENS (BOILED)   1C   1309 mg
WILD CAUGHT SALMON   4OZ   712 mg
DRIED APRICOTS   1/2C   755 mg
COCONUT WATER   1C   600 mg
ACORN SQUASH   1C   896 mg
PINTO BEANS (BOILED)   1C   746 mg
TOMATO JUICE (CANNED)   1C   527 mg
AVOCADO    50G (⅓ of whole)   357 mg
LIMA BEANS (COOKED)   1C   955 mg
BANANAS (RAW)   1 large   487 mg

Should You Supplement? 

Potassium supplementation should be under the direction of a physician as the consequences of hypokalemia or hyperkalemia could be cardiac arrest. This is why all over-the-counter potassium supplements come in an incredibly low dose. Keep in mind that you can get far more potassium from food sources than an over-the-counter potassium supplement!  Meaningful potassium supplements can only be obtained with a prescription and these prescription potassium supplements are usually only needed for people who are on diuretics or who have specific potassium wasting medical conditions. Thus, for you  health conscious people without these medical conditions your goal should be to focus on potassium rich foods with special awareness that you may need more of these foods if you are an avid exerciser or exercise in the heat.

Sources: 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11866648/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4357351

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3648706/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539791/

Kate Clemens Bio

Kate Clemens is a licensed Health Coach, personal trainer, nutritionist and yoga instructor.  She is currently in her clinical year of PA school through the Yale School of Medicine online and just finished a month long preceptorship with Dr. John Day.  

Kate has worked in the wellness industry for over 15 years now.  Her passion for guiding people to their optimal health was ignited in 2003 when she was designated Command Fitness Leader at the Pentagon as a young naval officer.  What she has learned from working with hundreds of diverse clients is that 90% of people want to and attempt to change, but fail.  Significant research studies have proven that behavior change strategies are essential to helping people obtain the new habits they need to reach their goals.  As a wellness professional, Kate’s mission is to provide specific support, a specific plan and personalized reinforcement to those she works with.  

Today, Kate resides in Santa Cruz, CA and works with clients both in person and online.   Contact her today to get started!  

katemayclem@gmail.com

(415) 676 0353

www.getfitwithkate.com

 

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2 Comments
  1. Very helpful article Dr. Day. It seems I was always running on the low side with Potassium so I put that large pill with my daily perscription pills rather then vitamins, which I miss on weekends etc and that did the trick.

  2. hi, i sure enjoy your latest book. i have a fib,and eat a plant based diet with no sugar, processed foods. talking about the amount of potassium one can have, you can get on many websites trying to get the real advice oh how much one should eat, and nearly everyone of them will tell you a different amount. plant foods are so high in potassium, that you could eat a baked potatoe and some squash, and it would be all you could eat in a day. especially if you have other health issues. all this different advice can run one crazy just about.

    agin thank you so much for helping us.