You can safely say that potassium is one of the most underrated minerals.
When people are talking about essential minerals you need, usually the list starts with iron, magnesium and calcium.
It is understandable, as iron improves your blood, magnesium is responsible for 90% of the enzyme processes in your body, and calcium keeps your bones healthy.
However, potassium is also very important, and deficiency can lead to some nasty symptoms, mainly muscle cramps.
Before we go into the causes, symptom and how to avoid potassium deficiency, I should explain you a little bit about potassium.
It is a type of mineral considered an electrolyte, similar to sodium and magnesium.
Electrolytes control the electrical activity of your body, affect hydration and how your muscles function.
In order to break down carbs and proteins, your body needs potassium.
For healthy adults, the daily recommended dose of potassium is 4.7 grams.
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Causes of Potassium Deficiency
Most of the time, deficiency is caused by some chronic conditions, but diarrhea and vomiting are the two likeliest factors.
Kidney diseases and eating disorders are also critical for potassium deficiency .
Fluids are usually recommended for people with diarrhea, just so they do not get to a stadium where potassium insufficiency can cause other problems.
Dehydration and low fluids intake are one of the many factors that contribute to deficiency.
Without fluids, you are not getting the recommended dose of electrolytes your body needs to function properly.
Symptoms of potassium deficiency
Muscle Weakness, Cramps, and Spasms
When the potassium level of your body drops, your muscles are not able to function properly.
You might think the reason is an excessive workout, or you are feeling tired, but when you are experiencing muscle cramps, spasms and weakness, the more likely scenario is that you need more potassium in your diet.
Tetany and Paralysis
An extreme fatigue caused by potassium deficiency can sometimes lead to a condition tetany, where the muscles go into a sustained involuntary state of contraction.
The worst case scenario or extreme hypokalemia can lead to paralysis as well, where the muscles go completely limp.
Your breathing muscles can be affected as well, causing you to experience problems with breathing.
Potassium deficiency not only disrupts the muscles from functioning properly, but it can also damage them.
As your muscles are being damaged, they can get a condition called rhabdomyolysis.
It is a condition in which the contents of your muscles leak out, and the symptoms are usually stiffness, tenderness, and aching of your muscles.
Dizziness and Fainting
As mentioned, kidney problems are usually one of the causes of potassium deficiency.
But it works the other way around as well.
When your potassium levels are down, your kidneys cannot function properly and they lose the ability to concentrate urine.
The result is you are losing way too much water from your body, causing your blood pressure to drop.
Dizziness and fainting are the symptoms that accompany low blood pressure always, and that happens in this case as well.
Another side effect of your kidneys not being able to function properly is frequent urination.
As you are losing excessive amounts of water, you will be visiting the toilet more often than usual.
And the vicious cycle continues with you drinking more water and still feeling extreme thirst.
Abdominal Pain and Cramps
When the potassium levels go down, one of the first muscles that get hit are the abdominal muscles and intestines.
They start doing their “involuntary work” which causes malfunction.
Bloating, pain and cramps in the abdominal section are a given, and sometimes it can lead to constipation as well.
Muscles are not the alone impacted.
Nerves get hit as well. As your potassium level goes down, nerves fire abnormally, and the result is numbness, burning sensation, and tingling.
How to Avoid Potassium Deficiency
As with every other mineral out there, the best way to avoid is by eating your way out of it.
Luckily for you, there are countless of sources for potassium.
One of the best sources of potassium comes from the fruits family, mainly bananas, mangoes, apricots, avocado, dates and kiwi fruits.
If you are more into veggies, look for vegetables that are high in beta-carotene such as carrots, red peppers, and sweet potatoes.
Usually, these contain a high dose of potassium in addition to beta-carotene.
Last, but not least, oily fish is another great source that can help you.
Sardines, one of the cheapest fish options out there, contain as much as 365mg per can.