Potassium As a Nutrient in Drinking Water

There is a growing movement to use potassium in conjunction with sodium to treat and soften drinking water. This would cause the level of potassium in drinking water to rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that the level of potassium found in drinking water would present no health concerns for healthy adults; however, for certain populations with comprised renal functions, such as infants or individuals suffering from specific diseases, there is the possibility of adverse health effects.

What is Potassium?

The American Heart Association defines potassium as an electrolyte and nutrient. It is found in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meat and is essential for the body to properly function. Potassium works with sodium to maintain the body's water balance and is also involved in nerve function, muscle control and blood pressure. According to Colorado State University, new studies have found that diets high in potassium and low in sodium may protect against hypertension. Potassium is most often consumed from dietary sources, though potassium supplements do exist. The American Heart Association's list of high-potassium foods includes bananas, cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, tomato juice, molasses and potatoes.

Potassium Consumption in the U.S

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Experts at Colorado State University state that the majority of Americans do not consume enough potassium in their diet. At the same time, according to the WHO, there is growing concern about the over-consumption of sodium. Because potassium and sodium work to maintain an equilibrium, having too much or too little of either can have severe health consequences. In the same report, the WHO reported on the growing effort to introduce methods to treat water with potassium salts, instead of just sodium, as a way to increase potassium levels and reduce sodium levels found in drinking water.

Potassium Levels in Drinking Water

The level of potassium in drinking water depends on the type of treatment used. Water that goes through potassium permanganate has lower levels of potassium than water that uses potassium-based water softener. The level of potassium found in drinking water is low enough not to be a concern for healthy individuals, says the WHO.

Susceptible Populations

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Because potassium is processed through the kidneys, the WHO has identified individuals with kidney disease or compromised renal functions as susceptible populations that may have significant adverse health effects due to increased potassium intake. In addition, the WHO also identifies infants, senior citizens and individuals suffering from heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, adrenal insufficiency, coronary heart disease, or who are taking medication that may elevate potassium levels, as groups susceptible to negative consequences of increased levels of potassium.

Over-Consumption of Potassium

In healthy individuals, increased levels of potassium in drinking water should not have adverse health consequences. In fact according to Colorado State University, increasing potassium levels should provide many health benefits. It is possible, however, to have too much potassium in the bloodstream. According to the Mayo Clinic, hyperkalemia, a rare but potentially serious condition, can occur when there is too much potassium in the blood stream. They cite kidney failure, type I diabetes, alcoholism, and excessive use of potassium supplements as common causes of hyperkalemia.

Symptoms of hyperkalemia include nausea, muscle fatigue, paralysis, weakness and abnormal heart rhythms. If you are experiencing these symptoms or are concerned about the level of potassium in your bloodstream, contact your doctor immediately.


As we all know, it is important to know what is going into our bodies. Over- or under-consumption of any one nutrient or mineral may have eventual health consequences. If you are concerned about how your water is being treated, contact your local water utility to find out more information.