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Potassium is an electrolyte, meaning that it conducts an electrical current. In the body, potassium conducts nerve impulses. Along with sodium and chlorine, potassium helps maintain the body’s normal hydration level and degree of acidity. Potassium is an essential mineral. 

Roles

What does potassium do? 

  • Maintains balanced levels of sodium inside and outside of cells;
  • Transfers information, in the form of electrical (nerve) impulses, between the brain and the body;
  • Maintains a normal degree of acidity in the blood;
  • Facilitates muscle contraction, including heart muscle contraction;
  • Permits blood vessels to dilate and constrict;
  • Enables the body to store sugar as glycogen, the primary energy source for muscles;
  • Maintains cellular hydration throughout the body;
  • Enables proper adrenal gland and kidney function.

Needs

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide the adequate daily intake. 

This intake is based on the quantities considered necessary to lower blood pressure and counteract the adverse effects of excessive sodium consumption, minimizing the risk of developing bone loss or kidney stones. 

Adequate Intake (AI)* of Potassium: 

Adequate Intake of Potassium
Age
Amount/Day
Infants
0 to 6 months
400mg
7 to 12 months
700mg
Children
1 to 3 years
3000mg
4 to 8 years
3800mg
Preteens
9 to 13 years
4500mg
Teens
14 to 18 years
4700mg
Adults
19 and up
4700mg
Pregnant women
 
4700mg
Nursing mother
 
5100mg

Source: Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Potassium, Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate, Washington, DC: National Academies Press, États-Unis, 2004. This data reflects a consensus between Canadian and U.S. health authorities.

*Because data from scientific studies does not make it possible to establish a precise recommended daily allowance, experts chose instead to establish an adequate intake.

Sources

Fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens, root vegetables, and vine fruit, are good food sources for potassium. 

Food Sources for Potassium (Partial List): 

Food
Portion Size
Potassium
White beans, cooked
250ml (1 cup)
1 189mg
Baked potato, peel on
1 medium-sized (175g)
1 081mg
Soy or lima beans, cooked
250ml (1 cup)
955-970mg
Beans: pinto, red, navy, lentils, split peas, cooked
250ml (1 cup)
658-746mg
Beet greens, boiled
125ml (0.5 cup)
655mg
Clams, canned
100g (3.5oz)
628mg
Baked potato, peeled
1 medium-sized
610mg
Tomato purée, canned
125ml (0.5 cup)
580mg
Halibut filet, baked or grilled
100g (3.5oz)
573mg
Yellowfin (albacore) tuna, baked
100g (3.5oz)
569mg
Atlantic cod, grilled or canned
100g (3.5oz)
451mg to 524mg
Pacific redfish, baked
100g (3.5oz)
520mg
Winter squash, cooked
125ml (0.5 cup)
448mg
Spinach, boiled
125ml (0.5 cup)
443mg
Plain yogurt, 0–4% fat
175ml (0.75 cup)
434mg
Artichoke, boiled
1 medium-sized (125g)
425mg
Banana
1 medium-sized (120g)
422mg
Salmon, cooked or canned
100g (3.5oz)
300mg to 400mg
Haddock, baked
100g (3.5oz)
399mg
Plantain, cooked
125ml (0.5 cup)
378mg

Source: Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File , (2001b, 2005);
 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

Deficiency

Potassium deficiency is rare. Side effects of potassium deficiency can stem from a simple lack of potassium, a lack of the salt that works with it (e.g., citrate), or a lack of both elements. The term hypokalemia refers to a low potassium level in the blood. 

Causes of potassium deficiency include the following: 

  • A range of drugs including diuretics used in treating high blood pressure;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Excessive laxative usage;
  • Sustained diarrhea;
  • Frequent vomiting;
  • A very hot climate or intense physical activity (excessive sweating);
  • A weight loss diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates;
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia).

Signs of potassium deficiency: 

  • Cramps and leg pains;
  • Dry mouth, acute thirst;
  • Fatigue and unexplained weakness;
  • Irregular heartbeat (in serious cases);
  • Confusion;
  • Thirst;
  • Constipation;
  • Bloating;
  • Nausea or vomiting.

Adverse effects

No data demonstrates adverse reactions to excessive potassium intake from food sources. Potassium supplements, however, can cause acute toxicity in healthy individuals. The term hyperkalemia refers to a high potassium level in the blood. 

Signs of excess potassium (due to supplementation):

  • Upset stomach;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Flatulence;
  • Weakness, heaviness in the legs;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Numbness in the hands, feet, and lips;
  • Altered heart beat.

Cons-indications

Natural health products or vitamin supplements: 

  • none; 

Drugs that can lead to potassium deficiency (hypokalemia): 

  • Beta blockers;
  • Decongestants;
  • Bronchodilators;
  • Diuretics;
  • Corticoids;
  • Antibiotics (in large doses).

Drugs liable to lead to excessive potassium levels (hyperkalemia): 

  • Potassium-sparing diuretics;
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors;
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs);
  • Anti-infective drugs;
  • Anticoagulants;
  • Anti-hypertensives (potassium-dependen

Other names

Potassium, Potassium acetate, Potassium bicarbonate, Potassium citrate, Potassium chloride, Potassium gluconate, Potassium phosphate, Potassium chelate, K