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Potassium is a mineral that helps the kidneys function normally. It also plays a key role in cardiac, skeletal, and smooth muscle contraction, making it an important nutrient for normal heart, digestive, and muscular function. A diet high in potassium from fruits, vegetables, and legumes is generally recommended for optimum heart health.
Potassium is found in a wide variety of plant and animal foods and in beverages. Many fruits and vegetables are excellent sources, as are some legumes (e.g., soybeans) and potatoes. Meats, poultry, fish, milk, yogurt, and nuts also contain potassium. Among starchy foods, whole-wheat flour and brown rice are much higher in potassium than their refined counterparts, white wheat flour and white rice.
Everyone. Signs of deficiency include a weak immune system, susceptibility to overtraining, and an increased need for supplemental glutamine. Having too much potassium in the blood is called hyperkalemia and having too little in the blood is known as hypokalemia. Proper balance of potassium in the body depends on sodium. Therefore, excessive use of sodium may deplete the body's stores of potassium. Other conditions that can cause potassium deficiency include diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, malnutrition, and use of diuretics. In addition, coffee and alcohol can increase the amount of potassium excreted in the urine. Adequate amounts of magnesium are also needed to maintain normal levels of potassium.
The best dietary sources of potassium are fresh unprocessed foods, including meats, fish, vegetables (especially potatoes), fruits (especially avocados, dried apricots, and bananas), citrus juices (such as orange juice), dairy products, and whole grains. Most potassium needs can be met by eating a varied diet with adequate intake of milk, meats, cereals, vegetables, and fruits.
If you are currently supplementing with potassium, or are considering supplementing with potassium, pay careful attention to how much fruit you are eating daily. Fruit contains a high amount of potassium and if you are supplementing with potassium, overdose is a possibility. Taking too much potassium can result in an upset stomach, flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and burping. An excessive amount of potassium can result in a heart attack.
The elderly are at high risk for developing hyperkalemia due to decreased kidney function that often occurs as one ages. Older people should be careful when taking medication that may further affect potassium levels in the body, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and ACE inhibitors (see section on Interactions for additional information). Taking potassium supplements, at any age, should only be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
Diabetics and persons with kidney failure should consult a qualified medical practitioner prior to the use of potassium supplements. Follow the directions as prescribed on the products label.
|Birth to 6 months||400 mg||400 mg|
|7–12 months||860 mg||860 mg|
|1–3 years||2,000 mg||2,000 mg|
|4–8 years||2,300 mg||2,300 mg|
|9–13 years||2,500 mg||2,300 mg|
|14–18 years||3,000 mg||2,300 mg||2,600 mg||2,500 mg|
|19–50 years||3,400 mg||2,600 mg||2,900 mg||2,800 mg|
|51+ years||3,400 mg||2,600 mg|
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