The Other Electrolyte -
Dr. Linda M. Chenaur, DC
Potassium: A mineral that serves as an electrolyte and is involved in the balance of fluid within the body. Our bodies contain more than twice as much potassium as sodium (typically 9oz versus 4oz). About 98% of total body potassium is inside our cells. Potassium is the principal cation (positive ion) of the fluid within cells and is important in controlling the activity of the heart, muscles, nervous system and just about every cell in the body. Potassium regulates the water balance and acid-base balance in the blood and tissues. Evidence is showing that potassium is also involved in bone calcification. Potassium is a cofactor in many reactions, especially those involving energy production and muscle building.
As an alternative health practitioner, the treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, and muscle and joint pain are common ailments in my profession. Heading into my 18th year of practice, I can say that, without a doubt, one of the most neglected health improving elements in our lifestyle today is the intake of potassium, and one of the most noticeable, and simplest, changes in patient health in my office has been through potassium supplementation.
If people ate only whole, unprocessed foods and used salt modestly, there would be no problem with potassium-sodium imbalance. Just about any whole food that has not been processed is loaded with potassium. This includes bananas, oranges, apples, rutabagas and cabbage. Potatoes are one of the richest sources of this mineral. A big baked potato, for example, will have about twice as much potassium as a banana but a lot of people will add salt to their baked potato in some form or another, which is counterproductive. Our caveman forebears got around 11,000 mg of potassium daily and about 700 mg of sodium. Today, in the United States, that 11,000 mg has shrunk to 2,500 mg of potassium. Meanwhile, the sodium intake has increased from 700 mg to 4,000 mg.*
Dietary sodium can also be the cause of the increased calcium in cells and the resultant constricted blood vessels. Potassium would, of course, stimulate the sodium/potassium pump and, thus, indirectly, through the resulting increase in sodium-calcium exchange, decrease the intracellular calcium and allow the muscles in the blood vessel walls to relax.*
A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association determined that people who had consumed the highest levels of potassium and the lowest levels of sodium (about twice as much potassium as sodium) were 50% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who ate the most sodium and the least potassium (about four times as much sodium as potassium).
Many people can restore their blood pressure to normal, decrease muscle and joint pain, increase energy, and decrease chronic headaches simply by increasing potassium to 4700mg or more/day and by reducing sodium to 500 - 1,000 mg/day.
The Finnish people developed a product that they call "PanSalt," which is known in the United States as Solgar Heart Salt or Cardia Salt. Solgar Heart Salt/Cardia Salt contains 54% less sodium (by volume) than regular table salt and also contains 176 milligrams of potassium and 13 milligrams of magnesium in each quarter-teaspoon serving. An important factor is that it doesn’t taste bitter as many other salt substitutes do that contain potassium.* A potassium salt is available, however, that contains no sodium and, though the taste is noticeably different from salt, no sodium is added to the diet with this product
Potassium as a supplement is only available in 99mg tablets. A prescription is required for higher doses, even though an average banana may contain 500mg. The best food sources include all vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables; oranges, whole grains, sunflower seeds, mint leaves, oranges, nuts, milk, potatoes, and bananas. One milliequivalent (meq) is equal to about 64mg of potassium.
Serum levels are a fair indicator of potassium status, but the best indicator of intracellular potassium is RBC (red blood cell) potassium.
Large doses of potassium supplements can cause stomach irritation in some individuals and should be taken after meals with plenty of water. Individuals should avoid using slow-release or film-coated potassium tablets as they may increase the risk of ulcers in the small intestine.
Interview of Richard D. Moore, M.D., Ph.D.,
“Potassium to Sodium Ratio Affects Overall Health, Part II”
Dr. Richard A. Passwataer, Ph.D., Science Editor, Whole Foods Magazine,