Is Weakness a Sign of Low Potassium?

Potassium is a mineral that is necessary for all living cells. It helps to maintain proper electrolyte balance in body cells, is essential for proper muscle function, and is instrumental in conducting nerve impulses.

While most people get the potassium they need (50-100 meq. daily) from the food they eat, there are occasions when one may need extra potassium. The body’s potassium reserves can become depleted, for example, when there is excessive loss of fluid through diarrhea, vomiting, or the use of some diuretics (“water pills”) and laxatives. Similarly, the body can lose potassium any time there is a large flow of urine, as may happen when carbohydrate intake is restricted and when a person is drinking a lot of fluids.

Symptoms of muscle weakness and/or muscle cramps, fatigue, or lack of energy may indicate low levels of potassium. (Conversely, inadequate fluid intake, which may cause a slight dehydration, can also cause these symptoms, so be sure to drink at least 80 ounces of water or other calorie-free fluids each day during weight loss.)

During the Weight Loss phase of the Lean for Life program, Lindora clinic patients take a prescription-strength oral potassium chloride supplement (750 mg./ 10 mEq.) to maintain normal potassium levels. Potassium is also available over-the-counter in lower doses in the form of potassium gluconate. Table salt and salt substitutes also contain potassium.

Note: if you are being treated for chronic disease, high blood pressure, or are taking potassium-sparing diuretics, you should not take extra potassium supplements without first consulting your physician.

Like potassium, sodium helps regulate the body’s fluid balance. Sodium levels may become depleted when excessive body fluid is lost during times of profuse sweating, diarrhea and vomiting.

Low sodium levels can cause symptoms that are similar to potassium deficiency such as dizziness, fatigue, lack of energy, muscle weakness and/or muscle cramps.

The amount of sodium we consume from the foods we eat is usually adequate to maintain the amount of fluid in our blood vessels and thus to maintain a normal blood pressure. However, the amount of fluid within the blood vessels decreases when carbohydrate intake is low, such as during a low carbohydrate weight loss program. As a result, blood pressure can drop (especially when a person stands suddenly from a seated position) causing lightheadedness, dizziness and a feeling of weakness.

Individuals who have a low or normal blood pressure may find it necessary to add extra table salt to their food and/or drink a cup of fat free bullion or broth twice a day to help maintain adequate blood pressure during a low carbohydrate eating plan.

Your need for potassium and/or sodium supplementation may best be determined by consulting your physician or health-care professional.