Just like the rest of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need, potassium is equally important. Without each and every vital nutrient our bodies cannot function at is best. Potassium is responsible for keeping our muscles working properly. Without potassium we could not contract our muscles. This is a big deal since we have muscles in every part of our body. Our heart is a muscle too and without enough potassium our heart would not be able to pump blood throughout the rest of our body and keep us alive. Potassium also contributes to cell functions, nerve impulse conduction and enzyme activity. Potassium definitely has a lot of crucial roles to play within our bodies. So having the proper potassium balance is very important.
With a proper well balanced diet we are able to consume enough potassium to keep our levels balanced and our bodies are able to function properly. However, a lot people are consuming too much potassium or not enough which can have unfortunate consequences. There are two terms used to describe having a potassium imbalance. The first word, hyperkalemia, is the term used for having an over abundance of potassium in the body. The second word, hypokalemia, is the term used for having too little potassium within the body. Both of these conditions can have drastic effects on the body.
Hyperkalemia, or too much potassium can cause problems with the heart. Abnormalities in the heart rhythm may be detected on an ECG test. In more severe cases the heart will race or could even go into cardiac arrest. Other symptoms of hyperkalemia include problems within the nervous system. This can be felt as numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, paralysis and weakness. This condition is often caused by kidney disease or kidney failure since the kidneys are responsible for filtering out excess potassium in the body. Also conditions that affect the adrenal glands can also contribute to having hyperkalemia. A person may consume more than the proper amount of potassium and be okay as long as the rest of the body is functioning properly to help expel the extra potassium however is there is a part of the system that is not functioning properly then the potassium may build up inside the body.
Hypokalemia is more common in people who take diuretics or have prolonged diarrhea or vomiting. When the body expels all of the body’s nutrients before they have a chance to be absorbed into the blood stream, potassium is lost before it becomes useful. Diuretics force the kidneys to work overtime, pulling out the potassium too quickly as well. Hypokalemia can also occur in people who do not consume potassium rich foods. Hypokalemia can also result in heart failure as well as paralysis, just like hyperkalemia. Other symptoms of hypokalemia can include weakness, confusion and muscle discomfort. Often cramping of the muscles is very common, especially after physical activity. Low potassium can also result in the condition that many people know as “walking legs”. It is an uncomfortable feeling in the legs that results in the need to constantly move your legs to find a more comfortable position.
In order to ensure you are getting just the right amount of potassium in your diet you should eat as many different foods as you can. Eating a wide variety of foods will ensure you are getting all your vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. If you are unsure about whether or not the foods you are eating contain the proper amount of potassium then you should include a daily multi-vitamin into your routine.