Sodium, magnesium, chloride, and potassium are the major constituents of electrolytes in our body which are responsible for transmitting nerve signals, regulating water and muscle contractions. Potassium imbalance may have deadly consequences, it may lead to brain dysfunction, muscle cramps, and twitching. However, it can be prevented with various measures such as including potassium-rich food items in diet and medical supplements.
Potassium is a positively charged ion and maintains the acid-base balance in the body. The major functions of potassium are transmitting nerve signals. Potassium ions act as neurotransmitters and responsible for carrying information from one part of the body to another.
In addition to neurotransmission, it also maintains the balance between water and electrolytes. Potassium deficiency affects the water retention capacity of the body. It also maintains healthy muscle tissues and prevents muscle cramps and spasms.
What is Potassium Deficiency?
Hypokalemia is primarily caused by the prolonged deprivation of a potassium-rich diet. However, it can also be caused by excessive vomiting and diarrhoea, sweating, urination for a very long time. In addition to this potassium deficiency can also be caused by malabsorption in the body due to pre-existing health conditions like GI disorders, bariatric surgery, renal dysfunction, and medications that may affect the concentration of potassium in the body such as diuretics.
Causes of Potassium Deficiency
The condition of hypokalemia is developed due to various reasons. Some of the major factors have been illustrated below:
- Potassium Deficient Diet: The widely accepted cause of potassium deficiency in humans are potassium deficient food items in our daily diet and our food habits in which we mainly rely on fast foods.
- Chronic Disorders: Chronic disorders like prolonged vomiting, diarrhoea and urination expels a good amount of potassium ion from our body and result in the condition of hypokalemia. Chronic gastrointestinal disorders affect the ability of potassium absorption which may lead to its deficiency.
- Alcoholism: Excessive alcohol consumption is also considered the major contributing factor to potassium deficiency. Prolonged alcohol consumption affects the urination cycle as well as absorption through gastrointestinal tracts.
- Renal Failure: The kidney functions as a filter for the blood. It expels the unwanted materials from the blood and maintains a healthy balance between its constituents. Renal disorders paralyses the capabilities of kidneys and results in the expulsion of important minerals like potassium otherwise which have been preserved in the blood.
Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency
The common symptoms of potassium deficiency include:
- Muscle cramp and spasm
- Muscle twitching
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Excessive urination
- Heavy sweating
Health Risks due to Hypokalemia
- Neural Dysfunction: Potassium acts as neurotransmitters in transferring signals from one part of the body to other. Lack of potassium in the bloodstream leads to the inefficient transmission of the signal which affects the coordination between the brain and different organs. It impairs the psychomotor abilities of different limbs.
- Cardiovascular Disease: The prolonged condition of low potassium in the human body leads to irregular heart rhythm (palpitations). Doctors generally do echocardiography to understand the abnormal behaviour of the heart.
- Water Retention: Lack of potassium in the body results in an acid-base imbalance which affects the water retention capacity of the individual cells and body. People with severe potassium deficiency might develop symptoms of body swelling.
Some other health risks associated with potassium deficiencies are Cushing’s, Fanconi, Liddle, barter, and Gitelman syndromes.
Tests for Potassium Deficiency
Potassium is present in the blood, cells, and tissues in variable concentrations. The common tests recommended for potassium deficiency are blood or and urine tests. Its often tested in electrolyte or metabolic panel.
- Blood Test: Potassium is tested as part of the electrolyte or metabolic panel. Ideally, we don’t require any precautions for this test however we need to stop the medication that may interfere with the concentration of electrolytes.
- Urine Test: The second most used method to identify the concentration of potassium in our body is a urine test. It’s also been tested along with other electrolytes.
If you have health conditions that may cause potassium deficiency, doctors may advise for these tests for the confirmation of potassium deficiency.
Remedies for Potassium Deficiency
- Potassium Supplements: Severe deficiency needs immediate medical attention. Doctors may prescribe medical supplements however they should be consumed in a controlled manner as high doses of potassium may have an impact on GI tracts and acid-base balance.
- Potassium Rich Diet: The easiest way to prevent potassium deficiency is a potassium-rich diet. Some of the potassium-rich food items lentils, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, apricots, prunes, raisins, dates, mushroom, spinach, broccoli.
- Fortified Food Items: Several food items have a very low concentration of potassium in this circumstance we need to adopt the fortification process of food items to enrich our daily requirements of potassium through diet. The fortification at the initial stage of agriculture may be the most plausible solution to this.
- Avoid Drinking: For the proper functioning of the human body we must minimize alcohol intake or if possible, should quit drinking. It will help with inadequate absorption and prevent excessive expulsion of electrolytes from our bodies.
Prevention of Potassium Deficiency
It is often said that “Prevention is better than Cure” and indeed this is very much true about mineral deficiencies. Hypochloremia can be prevented through the consumption of a potassium-rich diet.
- Fortified food items
Adequate Intake (>19 yrs.):
The ideal way to prevent potassium deficiencies is to a main balanced and healthy diet. The daily intakes of potassium vary with age however, the recommended daily intake of potassium for an adult is 4700 mg.
Potassium is a very important electrolyte essential for the proper function of vital organs like the brain and heart. In severe cases, it may lead to encephalopathy which may be irreversible in few cases. It also helps in maintaining the acid-base balance in our body.
Although potassium deficiency has several ill effects, it can be treated with the appropriate consultation and supplements as prescribed by medical experts. The best possible way to avoid these life-threatening circumstances by consuming an adequate amount of potassium as per RDA through various potassium-rich diets.