Potassium is a chemical element necessary for the functioning of all living cells. It is present in all plant and animal tissues and has high concentrations in fruits especially, but is also found in abundance in vegetables and meats as well. Most people who have a well balanced diet including a variety of foods from all food groups do not need to worry about a serious potassium deficiency, but today’s typical diets fall short of ideal.
The Institute of Medicine in 2004 declared that the optimum daily dose of potassium is 4,000 mg, however most people consume half that amount, suggesting by these standards that most people fall into the category of potassium deficiency and might start showing related potassium deficiency symptoms!
Potassium is a critical element in maintaining a proper pH balance within our bodies and also regulates our fluid intake and output. It is our body’s own natural diuretic. Besides this function, it is also important for cellular functioning, for the cardiovascular system, muscle functioning, nerve transmission, and numerous other functions.
Potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia, can be fatal if it becomes severe enough. Because of its regulation of fluids in the body, if proper levels are not maintained, it can cause electrolyte imbalances. Electrolytes carry electrical impulses through the cell membranes of the nerves, heart and muscles and keep them functioning properly. Heart arrhythmias are often caused by electrolyte imbalances.
Potassium is excreted through the urinary tract and bowels at high rates and needs to be replenished on a daily basis. A potassium deficiency could be related to heavy loss of fluids from the body through diarrhea, excessive perspiration, or use of some medications such as diuretics. Other causes may be related to medical conditions. Failure to replace potassium can cause hypokalemia symptoms to appear.
Less severe symptoms of potassium deficiency include skin problems like acne, blistering, dryness of skin, poor sleep, nervousness, ringing in the ear and constipation. More severe symptoms are fatigue and weakness, confusion, poor memory or temporary memory loss, heart problems, arrhythmias, hypertension, depression, below normal or absent reflexes, and loss of muscle tone and paralysis.
Eating a well balanced diet full of potassium rich foods is an important factor in maintaining therapeutic levels of potassium in your system, but if your dietary intake falls short of the necessary requirements, a supplement may be an option. Other somewhat related mineral deficiencies you might want to watch out for are zinc deficiency symptoms, iron deficiency symptoms, calcium deficiency symptoms and magnesium deficiency symptoms. If you should begin experiencing any of these symptoms or a combination you must see your physician who will assess and most likely order blood tests to determine the presence of a serious potassium deficiency.