What do these people have in common?
- A young man who has vomiting and diarrhoea after eating spoiled food
- A middle-aged woman who is taking a water pill, called a diuretic, to control her blood pressure
- An elderly man with poorly functioning kidneys, who has been taking the same blood pressure medications for years and who missed his recent doctor’s appointment
All these people are at risk for potassium imbalance … either too little potassium like the young man who’s been vomiting and the woman taking fluid pills or too much potassium like the elderly man with worsening kidney function.
So why is potassium so important for your body?
Potassium is an essential mineral that your body needs in order to maintain the normal balance of cellular function in your heart, your kidneys and your muscles …
When you have too little potassium in your body – called hypokalemia – you’re prone to develop muscle cramps, fatigue and may even develop life-threatening heart irregularities. These heart irregularities indicate that your heart rhythm is abnormal and without immediate treatment, these irregular rhythms can lead to death. The only way to know if your potassium level is dangerously low is to get your blood level tested.
Not everyone who has an episode of vomiting or diabetes will develop low potassium but if you’ve been vomiting or having persistent diarrhoea for days, are unable to keep down any food then you need to seek medical attention immediately to seek if you have any electrolyte imbalances. Because with persistent vomiting or diabetes you may develop other salt imbalances that need treatment.
If you chronically have low potassium blood levels you’re at risk of having higher blood pressure as your body retains sodium and fluid, which both can raise your blood pressure. So by eating foods rich in potassium you can maintain the normal cellular function of your heart, your kidneys and your muscles and can even lower your blood pressure.
Foods rich in potassium are oranges and orange juice, bananas, potatoes, spinach, and legumes. These foods are natural sources of potassium and allow you to optimize the normal functioning of your body. Potassium supplements may be necessary if you are on medicines like water pills that make you lose excess potassium in your urine. Talk with your doctor to see if you should start potassium supplements or if a change in your diet with more potassium-rich foods will be the answer to your low potassium levels.
On the other side of the spectrum is having too much potassium in your body — called hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia, when mild, typically does not have any symptoms but when your potassium gets very high … you can again experience a fatal heart rhythm and even cardiac arrest. Usually, you can not eat so much potassium from food alone to cause you to have severe hyperkalemia without your kidneys do not function normally. When your kidneys do not function normally, your body holds on to the potassium and can cause elevated potassium in your blood.
If you suspect you’re at risk for elevated potassium levels, see your doctor and get the necessary treatment.
So you see, sodium is not the only mineral you need to know about when it comes to your health …. your potassium is important, too.
Featured Image: Today@Santa Fe