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Potassium

This mineral helps our cells conduct electricity—especially critical for muscles and nerves—and keeps our blood pressure low and our bones strong.

What Potassium Does For The Body

Athletes and recreational exercisers need potassium to replace the salts they lose through sweating. Having low levels of potassium will cause you to tire more easily during exercise, since low potassium prevents your body from storing glycogen, which is the fuel that muscles use.

People in Western societies consume about three times as much salt as potassium, while primitive cultures consume much more potassium—seven times as much as salt. Researchers believe potassium deficiency is tied to the chronic diseases that plague wealthy, industrialized countries like the U.S.

In addition to maintaining healthy cellular function, potassium is key to fighting high blood pressure. One meta-analysis of 33 studies found that increasing potassium intake by 2.3 to 3.9 grams per day lowers systolic / diastolic blood pressure by 4.4 / 2.5 mm Hg in people with hypertension.

Consuming more potassium lowers your risk of stroke. One study that followed 43,000 men found that those who consumed 4.3 mg of potassium a day were only 62 percent as likely to have a stroke as those who consumed 2.4 mg a day. The effect was especially pronounced for those who had hypertension.

Potassium also helps conserve the body's calcium and improve bone density, thus preventing osteoporosis. This is possible because many potassium-containing fruits and vegetable are alkaline, rather than acidic (like fish, meat and dairy). An overly acidic body may mobilize alkaline calcium salts from bones to bring the body to a normal pH, thus depleting bones of calcium. Eating enough potassium will mean the body has the alkaline ions to maintain a normal pH.

What happens if you don't have enough potassium:

A diet low in potassium and high in sodium does more damage than either on its own, and doubles your chances of getting a heart attack (compared to someone who consumes equal amounts of sodium and potassium).

Some forms of kidney or metabolic disease, as well as the prolonged use of diuretics may cause a potassium deficiency. Fluid loss through sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia nervosa or bulimia may also deplete your body of potassium.

In general, low levels of the mineral may cause fatigue, muscle weakness, cramps, constipation and abdominal pain, irritability and heart problems.

What happens if you have too much: Too much potassium may cause an abnormal heart rhythm that may lead to a heart attack. However, it is difficult to consume a toxic amount of potassium. Most cases of severely elevated potassium result from kidney failure or the use of certain diuretics.

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