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Potassium and Cardiac Function

By Mala Srivastava

Potassium helps regulate mineral and water balance throughout your body. Your heart, like the other organs in your body, needs potassium to function properly. According to Colorado State University Extension, increased consumption of potassium has been associated with a decreased risk of death due to cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, most Americans consume less than the recommended amount of potassium.

Potassium and the Pulse

Potassium occurs generally in the fluid inside cells, whereas sodium usually resides in the fluid outside cells. The potassium ion concentration is 30 times higher inside cells than outside. In contrast, the sodium ion concentration is 10 times lower inside cells than outside. Differences in the concentration of potassium and sodium ions generate an electrochemical gradient called the membrane potential. Ion pumps in your cell membrane, particularly the sodium-potassium pump, maintain the cell membrane potential by moving sodium ions out of the cell and pumping potassium ions into the cell. Regulation of the cell membrane potential is vital for nerve impulse transmission and cardiac function.

Normal Ranges

The normal potassium level in your blood should be between 3.5 and 5.0 milliequivalents per liter. If your potassium levels drop too low or get too high, you may develop cardiac arrhythmias -- abnormal heart rhythms -- that can be dangerous. Low potassium levels -- known as hypokalemia -- are a result of excessive loss of potassium from metabolic disturbances, use of certain diuretics, prolonged vomiting or kidney disease. On the other hand, high potassium levels -- known as hyperkalemia -- occur when potassium builds up in your body faster than your kidneys can remove it. Acute or chronic kidney failure or taking potassium-sparing diuretics causes hyperkalemia. Abnormal potassium levels negatively affect your cardiac function and can lead to cardiac arrest, so you should follow your doctor’s directions carefully.

Blood Pressure Regulation

If you consume a diet high in sodium and low in potassium, you may experience high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Sodium raises your blood pressure, because it causes your body to retain excess fluid, which puts extra workload on your heart. High blood pressure can hurt your arteries and lead to a heart attack and heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. Research suggests that increasing potassium intake may protect against elevated blood pressure by increasing urinary sodium excretion, notes Colorado State University Extension.

Daily Requirements of Potassium

Consuming the daily recommended amount of potassium can help keep your heart healthy. Adults 19 years and older need to consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day, the Linus Pauling Institute states. The recommended daily requirements change for breast-feeding women, however. Nursing mothers need to increase their potassium intake to 5,100 milligrams per day.

Dietary Sources

To keep your heart beating at a steady pace, add foods high in potassium to your diet. Potatoes are one of the excellent sources of potassium, providing about 926 milligrams per one medium baked potato with the skin on. One medium banana contains about 422 milligrams of potassium. Eating 1/2 cup of dried plums will provide you with 637 milligrams of potassium. One medium orange offers nearly 237 milligrams of potassium, 6 fluid ounces of tomato juice has 417 milligrams and 1/2 cup of cooked spinach provides about 420 milligrams.

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