Potassium is one of the important mineral required by us. It is the third most abundant mineral present in our body, after calcium and phosphorus. Potassium is an important mineral needed to maintain the electrolytic balance of the body. It works with sodium in maintaining the pH and fluid balance.
Potassium is necessary as it serves many critical roles like maintaining the functioning of the heart, blood pressure, transmission of nerve signals and muscle contraction. As per ICMR, an adult sedentary women needs 3225 mg of potassium per day, while RDA for an adult sedentary man is 3750 mg per day. Rich dietary sources of potassium are banana, coconut water, broccoli, avocados, carrots, peas, lentils, sweet potatoes, nuts, fish, milk and milk products.
Kidneys plays a major role in maintaining the levels of potassium via adrenal aldosterone hormone. Excess salt, sugar and alcohol intake, along with certain medications like diuretics, and dietary insufficiency are some of the reasons for the cause of the potassium levels to dip.
One of the major reasons why we need potassium is to maintain the bodily fluids which is determined by the concentration of two electrolytes - sodium and potassium. Sodium is needed to maintain water outside the cells, i.e., extracellular fluid and potassium which help regulate intracellular fluid (ECF). Therefore, any alteration in the levels of sodium and potassium could result in serious consequences like dehydration, oedema and water retention. Further, low potassium levels are linked with increased sodium levels and increased blood pressure. Studies indicate that hyperactive people may benefit from consuming a potassium rich diet as it helps remove excess sodium from the body. This reduces the risk of developing heart diseases and strokes as well.
Athletes involved in vigorous physical activity and exercises are at risk of losing potassium due to excess sweating. This may affect athletic performance as potassium is needed for regulating muscle and heart contractions. Altered potassium levels can result in irregular heartbeats and insufficient pumping of blood to other organs. In some cases, arrhythmia might prove fatal. Similarly, potassium plays a critical role in the transmission of nerve signals which is needed for appropriate muscle contraction. Hence, low potassium levels among athletes is dangerous and can lead to muscle twitching, cramping and inefficient muscle contractions. It can also damage our brain cells as our body loses its ability to generate a nerve impulse and reflexes.
In order to maintain the mineralisation of bones, potassium is of prime importance. Potassium is required for healthy bones and prolonged potassium deficiency weakens our bones. Gradually, our bones can become soft and porous leading to osteoporosis. This further augments the likelihood of stress and fall fractures.
The need of potassium in our body as a crucial mineral doesn’t end here, we also need potassium for energy metabolism and protein synthesis from amino acids. It is required during carbohydrate metabolism and also during synthesis of glycogen from glucose.
Hence, it is clearly evident that our body cannot function properly without potassium. Lack of potassium is associated with the increased likelihood of disorders like diabetes, hypertension and impaired neurological functioning. Potassium deficiency rarely occurs due to dietary deficiency, which often happens when the levels fall down due to vomiting, chronic diarrhoea, etc. Potassium levels needs to be carefully monitored during such conditions, as high potassium levels may result in some adverse effects on the body. Elevated potassium levels called as hyperkalemia are observed in chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure, liver disorders and type 1 diabetes.
Therefore, one should aim to include potassium rich foods in the diet to meet daily recommended needs. Always consult a doctor before opting for potassium supplements.