Potassium is an essential macromineral in human nutrition with a wide range of biochemical and physiological roles. It is important in the transmission of nerve impulses, the contraction of cardiac, skeletal and smooth muscle, the production of energy, the synthesis of nucleic acids, the maintenance of intracellular tonicity, and the maintenance of normal blood pressure.

In 1928, it was first suggested that high potassium intake could exert an anti-hypertensive effect. Accumulating evidence suggests that diets high in potassium may be protective not only against hypertension, but also strokes and cardiovascular disease and possibly other degenerative diseases, as well.

(Sam Bock‘s Note: Excess potassium in the bloodstream is potentially lethal. This is why potassium supplements are usually sold in single doses of 99mg or less. But individual higher dosages may be required for people with potassium deficiency (diarrhea, elderly). People requiring higher amounts of potassium should spread dosages during the day and take it with food.)

Potassium is a metallic element with atomic number 19 and an average atomic weight of 39.09 daltons. Its symbol is K. It is an alkali metal and belongs to the same group as lithium, sodium, rubidium, cesium and francium. The only non-alkali element that it shares some similarities with is thallium. The thallous cation is similar in size to the potassium cation, which is the basis of the use of thallium for myocardial perfusion imaging. The thallous cation is considered a potassium cation analogue.

Potassium exists physiologically in its univalent cationic state. It is the principal intracellular cation with an intracellular concentration of about 145 milliequivalents or millimoles per liter. This is 30 to 40 times greater than its extracellular concentration, which is normally 3.5 to 5.0 milliequivalents or millimoles per liter. About 98% of the body’s potassium is in intracellular fluid.

Potassium is lost via the alimentary tract or kidneys

The major cause of potassium deficiency is excessive losses of potassium through the alimentary tract or through the kidneys. Potassium depletion typically occurs as a consequence of malnutrition, prolonged use of oral diuretics, from severe diarrhea and from primary or secondary hyperaldosteronism, diabetic ketoacidosis or in those on long-term total parenteral nutrition who have received inadequate potassium.

Signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency include hypokalemia, metabolic alkalosis, anorexia, weakness, fatigue, listlessness and cardiac dysrhythmias. Prominent U-waves are seen in the electrocardiograms of those with hypokalemia.

The intake of potassium in the American diet ranges from about 1,560 to 4,680 milligrams (40 to 120 milliequivalents or millimoles) daily. The potassium intake of vegetarians is at the high end, and even higher in those eating organic food sources. Foods that are rich in potassium are fresh vegetables and fruits.

630 mg of Potassium in a Banana

A medium-size banana supplies 630 milligrams of potassium or about 75 milligrams per inch; a medium orange, 365 milligrams; half a cantaloupe, 885 milligrams; half an avocado, 385 milligrams; raw spinach, 780 milligrams per three to four ounces; raw cabbage, 230 milligrams a cup; raw celery, 300 milligrams a cup. Some vegetable juices supply up to 800 milligrams per serving. A dietary intake of about 3.5 grams of potassium is considered to be a desirable intake of potassium for adults.

Blood pressure reduction

Potassium supplementation has been demonstrated to bring about small but significant reductions in blood pressure in those with mild to moderate hypertension. The mechanism of this effect is unclear. Possible mechanisms for this antihypertensive effect include a decrease in plasma renin activity, effects on resistance vessels related either to a high potassium concentration or to a decrease in the number of angiotensin II receptors and natriuresis (potassium inhibits sodium reabsorbtion in the proximal tubules). (Sam Bock‘s Note: I believe it may be partly tied to potassium‘s role in trans- membrane nutrient and hormone delivery.

Potassium is involved in the uptake of intracellular magnesium

I believe it is somehow involved in the uptake of intracellular magnesium, which while is still not well understood, but increasingly thought to be hormonally controlled, as discussed above. As potassium is required for the proper uptake of hormone by our cells, potassium affects on hormone activity could be affecting magnesium uptake in this manner.)

Potassium intake may prevent stroke

The mechanism by which increased potassium intake may prevent stroke is not known. Possible mechanisms include potassium’s hypotensive effect, inhibition of free radical formation, prevention of vascular smooth muscle proliferation and prevention of arterial thrombosis.

Potassum inhibit free radical formation from macrophages

In in vitro and in animal studies, elevation of extracellular potassium concentration within the physiological range has been shown to inhibit free radical formation from macrophages and endothelial cells, as well as to inhibit proliferation and thymidine incorporation of vascular smooth muscle cells and to reduce platelet sensitivity to thrombin and other agonists.

High potassium diets have also been shown to reduce oxidative stress

High potassium diets have also been shown to reduce oxidative stress on the endothelium of high sodium chloride-fed stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats independent of blood pressure changes.


Potassium Homeostasis And Clinical Implications

 Am J Med. 1984 Nov 5;77(5A):3-10.                         Related Articles,


Brown RS.

The clinical estimation of potassium balance generally depends on the level of serum potassium. Since the extracellular fluid contains only 2 percent of the total body potassium, it must be recognized that potassium deficits are usually large before significant hypokalemia occurs, whereas smaller surfeits of potassium will cause hyperkalemia.

The total body potassium is regulated by the kidney in which distal nephron secretion of potassium into the urine is enhanced by aldosterone, alkalosis, adaptation to a high potassium diet, and delivery of increased sodium and tubular fluid to the distal tubule. However, the distribution of potassium between the intracellular and extracellular fluids can markedly affect the serum potassium level without a change in total body potassium.

Cellular uptake of potassium is regulated by insulin, acid-base status, aldosterone, and adrenergic activity.

Hypokalemia, therefore, may be caused by redistribution of potassium into cells due to factors that increase cellular potassium uptake, in addition to total body depletion of potassium due to renal, gastrointestinal, or sweat losses.

Similarly hyperkalemia may be caused by redistribution of potassium from the intracellular to the extracellular fluid due to factors that impair cellular uptake of potassium, in addition to retention of potassium due to decreased renal excretion. An understanding of the drugs that affect potassium homeostasis, either by altering the renal excretion of potassium or by modifying its distribution, is essential to the proper assessment of many clinical potassium abnormalities.

Both hypokalemia and hyperkalemia may cause asymptomatic electrocardiographic changes, serious arrhythmias, muscle weakness, and death. Hypokalemia has also been associated with several other consequences, including postural hypotension, potentiation of digitalis toxicity, confusional states, glucose intolerance, polyuria, metabolic alkalosis, sodium retention, rhabdomyolysis, intestinal ileus, and decreased gastric motility and acid secretion.

The Na+-K+-ATPase (Sodium Pump)


The Na+-K+-ATPase is a highly-conserved integral membrane protein that is expressed in virtually all cells of higher organisms. (Sam Bock‘s Note: This pump, built of a dynamic and reactive protein that adjusts its function and shape based on various biochemical stimulus, is found in most cell membranes, and uses intracellular bound potassium and extracellular bound sodium to draw nutrients into the cell. Anything interfering with sodium and potassium metabolism, has the potential to seriously disrupt cellular metabolism. )

As one measure of their importance, it has been estimated that roughly 25% of all cytoplasmic ATP is hydrolyzed by sodium pumps in resting humans. In nerve cells, approximately 70% of the ATP is consumed to fuel sodium pumps. As discussed above, ATP is the body‘s primary energy source.  As noted, significant amounts of energy are consumed running these pumps to transport and utilize nutrients. Anything interfering with their function will lead to decreased energy levels.

The gradually falling intracellular potassium levels would slowly crash that person‘s metabolism, by preventing and reducing nutrient and hormone absorption by all of the body‘s potassium dependant cells, causing fatigue, depression, copper build up, and other problems.

The concurrent prevention of magnesium absorption would not only contribute to potential for arrhythmia, and insomnia, but also reduce the body‘s ability to catalyze enzyme function and produce all- important ATP.

A cardiologist can confirm whether palpitations you may experience are of this nature. Such ―unknown causes are usually a result of low intracellular levels of magnesium and potassium. They can often be eliminated by balancing intracellular electrolytes, and by increasing blood oxygen transport levels with dietary increases of essential fatty acids (which will also have a lowering effect on blood pressure).

All minerals must be in balance for your electrolytic salts to also be in balance to allow smooth muscle to function properly. As well, it is very important that the lipids in your bloodstream are conducive to maintaining healthy flexible arteries, and to dissolving any saturated fatty acid build up.

For this we need adequate consumption of essential Omega 3 and Omega 6 GLA fatty acids (see below) in order to maintain proper prostaglandin balance, optimum oxygen transport, and cell membrane flexibility within the cells making up the structural walls of all parts of your cardio-vascular system – heart, lungs, arteries and veins, etc..

Enough B6, B12, folic acid and methyl donors to prevent the buildup of homocysteine (which causes excess oxidation damage and aging of tissues), and adequate levels of Vitamin A, B complex, C, D, E, synergistic minerals and amino acids (protein building blocks) to ensure the regeneration of damaged tissues, and transport of harmful substances from the body.

Adequate levels of cysteine are required to remove and transport metastatic calcium out the plaque that can build up on artery walls.

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.
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