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An essential mineral for your body, potassium is an electrolyte vital for numerous body functions, including building of proteins and muscles. It helps your body process carbohydrates and maintains your body’s acid-base balance as well as regulating the electrical activity in your heart. Too little potassium in your body may lead to various symptoms including tremors.
Potassium Requirements and Normal Blood Levels
The recommended dietary intake of potassium for all adults is 4,700 milligrams per day, rising to 5,100 milligrams for women who are breast-feeding. The normal level of potassium in your blood is between 3.7 and 5.2 milliequivalents per liter 2. Too low or too high potassium levels in your system can lead to health complications that could potentially be fatal.
Symptoms of Low Potassium Levels
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When there is only a small drop in potassium levels, there are usually few to no symptoms. However, continued low potassium levels can lead to muscle weakness or spasms, which may present themselves as hand tremors. Other symptoms include tingling or numbness, muscle damage, tiredness, heart palpitations or constipation. A large drop in potassium level can slow your heartbeat, leading to lightheadedness 2. In severe cases, your heart can also stop.
- When there is only a small drop in potassium levels, there are usually few to no symptoms.
- However, continued low potassium levels can lead to muscle weakness or spasms, which may present themselves as hand tremors.
Causes of Low Potassium Levels
A low potassium level can be the result of a number of conditions, but in general, it is because your body is losing too much potassium 2. Chronic kidney disease can lead to excessive potassium loss through your urine, but hypokalemia can also be caused by diarrhea, vomiting, excessive laxative use, excess sweating or the prolonged use of diuretics or antibiotics.
Lasix & Diet
To treat hypokalemia, you need to take potassium supplements. Speak with a medical professional to ensure the right dosage as too much potassium in your system is also dangerous. To prevent low potassium levels, eat foods rich in potassium. Fruits such as dried apricots, fresh bananas, kiwis, prunes and citrus fruits are naturally high in potassium. For vegetables, include tomatoes, peas and broccoli in your diet as they are all good sources of potassium. Milk and dairy products such as yogurt as well as most nuts are also good sources of potassium.
- To treat hypokalemia, you need to take potassium supplements.
- Speak with a medical professional to ensure the right dosage as too much potassium in your system is also dangerous.
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- MedlinePlus: Potassium Test
- MedlinePlus: Low Potassium Level
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Potassium in Diet
- Potassium. Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health
- Lambert H, Frassetto L, Moore JB, et al. The effect of supplementation with alkaline potassium salts on bone metabolism: a meta-analysis. Osteoporos Int. 2015;26(4):1311-8. doi:+10.1007/s00198-014-3006-9
- Chatterjee R, Slentz C, Davenport CA, et al. Effects of potassium supplements on glucose metabolism in African Americans with prediabetes: a pilot trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106(6):1431-1438. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.161570
- Potassium. Fact Sheet for Consumers. Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health
- Health Claim Notification for Potassium Containing Foods. US Food and Drug Administration
- Aburto NJ, Hanson S, Gutierrez H, Hooper L, Elliott P, Cappuccio FP. Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ 2013;346:f1378.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What Is Potassium?
- ConsumerLab.com. Potassium Supplements Review.
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- Curhan GC, Willett WC, Speizer FE, Spiegelman D, Stampfer MJ. Comparison of dietary calcium with supplemental calcium and other nutrients as factors affecting the risk for kidney stones in women. Ann Intern Med 1997;126:497-504.
- D’Elia L, Barba G, Cappuccio FP, Strazzullo P. Potassium intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease a meta-analysis of prospective studies. J Am Coll Cardiol 2011;57:1210-9.
- O’Neil C, Keast D, Fulgoni V, and Nicklas T. Food sources of energy and nutrients among adults in the US: NHANES 2003-2006. Nutrients. 2012;4:2097-120. DOI: 10.3390/nu4122097.
- Stone M, Martyn L, and Weaver C. Potassium intake, bioavailability, hypertension, and glucose control. Nutrients. 2016;8: E444. DOI: 10.3390/nu8070444.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Health Claim Notification for Potassium Containing Foods.
- Weaver CM. Potassium and health. Adv Nutr 2013;4:368S-77S.
- Yong Sun, et al. Dietary potassium regulates vascular calcification and arterial stiffness. JCI Insight. 2017;2(19):e94920.
Jessica Lewis has published professionally since 2005 and is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. Her work is regularly found in the "National Post" and "Oxygen Magazine." She holds degrees from the University of Guelph and McMaster University. A marathon runner and yoga enthusiast, she is also interested in alternative medicine.