What Does Potassium Do for Your Body?
We don’t talk about importance of potassium enough.
This mineral is classified as an electrolyte because it’s highly reactive in water. When dissolved in water, it produces positively charged ions.
This special property allows it to conduct electricity, which is important for many processes throughout the body.
This article provides a detailed review of potassium and what it does for your health.
What Is Potassium?
Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body.
It helps the body regulate fluid, send nerve signals and regulate muscle contractions.
Roughly 98% of the potassium in your body is found in your cells. Of this, 80% is found in your muscle cells, while the other 20% can be found in your bones, liver and red blood cells.
Once inside your body, it functions as an electrolyte.
When in water, an electrolyte dissolves into positive or negative ions that have the ability to conduct electricity. Potassium ions carry a positive charge.
Your body uses this electricity to manage a variety of processes, including fluid balance, nerve signals and muscle contractions.
Therefore, a low or high amount of electrolytes in the body can affect many crucial functions.
It Helps Regulate Fluid Balance
The body is made of approximately 60% water.
40% of this water is found inside your cells in a substance called intracellular fluid.
The remainder is found outside your cells in areas such as your blood, spinal fluid and between cells. This fluid is called extracellular fluid.
Interestingly, the amount of water in the ICF and ECF is affected by their concentration of electrolytes, especially potassium and sodium.
Potassium is the main electrolyte in the ICF, and it determines the amount of water inside the cells. Conversely, sodium is the main electrolyte in the ECF, and it determines the amount of water outside the cells.
The number of electrolytes relative to the amount of fluid is called osmolality. Under normal conditions, the osmolality is the same inside and outside your cells.
Simply put, there’s an equal balance of electrolytes outside and inside your cells.
However, when osmolality is unequal, water from the side with fewer electrolytes will move into the side with more electrolytes to equalize electrolyte concentrations.
This may cause cells to shrink as water moves out of them, or swell up and burst as water moves into them.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you consume the right electrolytes, including potassium.
Maintaining good fluid balance is important for optimal health. Poor fluid balance can lead to dehydration, which in turn affects the heart and kidneys.
Eating a potassium-rich diet and staying hydrated can help maintain good fluid balance.
Potassium Is Important for the Nervous System
The nervous system relays messages between your brain and body.
These messages are delivered in the form of nerve impulses and help regulate your muscle contractions, heartbeat, reflexes and many other body functions.
Interestingly, nerve impulses are generated by sodium ions moving into cells and potassium ions moving out of cells.
The movement of ions changes the voltage of the cell, which activates a nerve impulse.
Unfortunately, a drop in blood levels of potassium can affect the body’s ability to generate a nerve impulse.
Getting enough potassium from your diet can help you maintain healthy nerve function.
Health Benefits of Potassium
Consuming a potassium-rich diet is linked to many impressive health benefits.
May Help Reduce Blood Pressure
High blood pressure affects nearly one in three Americans.
It’s a risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
A potassium-rich diet may reduce blood pressure by helping the body remove excess sodium.
High sodium levels can elevate blood pressure, especially for people whose blood pressure is already high.
An analysis of 33 studies found that when people with high blood pressure increased their potassium intake, their systolic blood pressure decreased by 3.49 mmHg, while their diastolic blood pressure decreased by 1.96 mmHg.
In another study including 1,285 participants aged 25–64, scientists found that people who ate the most potassium had reduced blood pressure, compared to people who ate the least.
Those who consumed the most had systolic blood pressure that was 6 mmHg lower and diastolic blood pressure that was 4 mmHg lower, on average.
May Help Protect Against Strokes
A stroke occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to the brain. It’s the cause of death for more than 130,000 Americans every year.
Several studies have found that eating a potassium-rich diet may help prevent strokes.
In an analysis of 33 studies including 128,644 participants, scientists found that people who ate the most potassium had a 24% lower risk of stroke than people who ate the least.
Additionally, an analysis of 11 studies with 247,510 participants found that people who ate the most potassium had a 21% lower risk of stroke. They also found that eating a diet rich inthis mineral was linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
May Help Prevent Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by hollow and porous bones.
It’s often linked to low levels of calcium, an important mineral for bone health.
Interestingly, studies show that a potassium-rich diet may help prevent osteoporosis by reducing how much calcium the body loses through urine.
In a study in 62 healthy women aged 45–55, scientists found that people who ate the most potassium had the greatest total bone mass.
In another study with 994 healthy premenopausal women, scientists found that those who ate the most potassium had more bone mass in their lower back and hip bones.
May Help Prevent Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are clumps of material that may form in concentrated urine.
Calcium is a common mineral in kidney stones, and several studies show that potassium citrate lowers calcium levels in urine.
In this way, potassium may help fight kidney stones.
Many fruits and vegetables contain potassium citrate, so it’s easy to add to your diet.
In a four-year study in 45,619 men, scientists found those who consumed the most potassium daily had a 51% lower risk of kidney stones.
Similarly, in a 12-year study in 91,731 women, scientists found that those who consumed the most potassium daily had a 35% lower risk of kidney stones.
It May Reduce Water Retention
Water retention happens when excess fluid builds up inside the body.
has been used to treat water retention.
Studies suggest that a high potassium intake can help reduce water retention by increasing urine production and reducing sodium levels.