Potassium is a mineral that is essential for growth and general good health. It has many important actions in the body. Potassium can improve blood pressure, fatigue, stress, and headaches, and glucose transfer which affects weight. 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. Sometimes, potassium deficiencies may also be caused by a significant reduction in calories, prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, laxative abuse, and kidney problems.
When losing weight, it is especially important to take supplemental potassium. Weight loss can reduce the enzyme activity that controls the flow of potassium and sodium by 20 percent (Pasquali R. Metabolism, 1988; 37:86-90). Dieting postmenopausal women lose about half a pound of muscle per year if not taking potassium; those taking it would gain about one pound of muscle every three months. (Frassetto, L. American Journal of Physiology, 1996; 271:1,114-1,122)
Symptoms of low potassium levels include muscle weakness and/or muscle cramps, fatigue, or lack of energy. The most common cause of muscle cramps during weight loss is inadequate potassium intake. (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.) Symptoms that are strongly suggestive of a potassium deficiency merit prompt attention to prevent further depletion and such potentially serious consequences as irregularities in heart rhythm.
Potassium is found in a wide variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meat. A grapefruit contains approximately 450 mg., a cup of spinach contains about 600 mg., and a banana contains about 450 mg. Although there is no federally recommended daily allowance for potassium, the minimum recommended amount for adults is generally 3,500 to 4,700 mg. (milligrams) per day.
In addition to taking a high-quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement 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.
Salt is a good supplemental source of potassium. In fact, just one teaspoon of salt contains 1,500 milligrams of potassium. Better yet, some salt substitutes contain a whopping 2,800 milligrams of potassium per teaspoon.
Potassium supplementation comes in many forms:
Potassium phosphate is readily absorbed, improves phosphate balance and has the advantage of decreasing “perceived exertion” during exercise. It is inexpensive and available in many stores. Potassium phosphate should not be taken with antacids since this will lessen absorption.
Potassium citrate is readily absorbed, improves calcium balance, and slows the crystallization of calcium-containing kidney stones. It is inexpensive and available in many stores. The level of citrate is reduced when sodium or animal protein intake is high.
Potassium chloride is readily available and the least expensive, but it can cause stomach ache and interferes with vitamin B12 absorption. Also, chloride can contribute to the retention of sodium.
Potassium glycerophosphate provides maximal absorption. It is easy to take in liquid form which penetrates cell walls easily unlike other forms. Unfortunately it is the most expensive and least available. Check health food stores.
Potassium aspartate is already bound to aspartic acid which activates energy-rich phosphates. But it is relatively expensive and not available in most stores.
Important note: Magnesium is also important to good health, especially in those who are the most active or those wanting to lower blood pressure. When magnesium levels are low, potassium drops, too.