Potassium or the body in acid-alkaline balance
Although it is the third most abundant mineral in the human body, and often underestimated, potassium is crucial for the proper functioning of your body, especially at the cellular level because of its electrical conductivity.
Thousands of years ago, when humans roamed the earth hunting and gathering food, potassium was abundant in their diet, while sodium was scarce. The so-called "Palaeolithic" or "Paleo" diet, as it has become known, provided approximately 16 times more potassium than sodium.
Today, the way we eat in the West does not even provide half of the recommended daily portion of potassium. The foods that are chosen on a daily basis to make up our meals contain twice as much sodium when compared to potassium due to the preponderance of salt used to prepare fast or processed foods, not to mention the insufficient potassium in them. This imbalance, which is contrary to the way humans have transcended, is believed to be one of the main causes of the hypertension that affects a large number of the population. According to the Pan American Health Organisation, between 20% and 35% of the adult population in Latin America and the Caribbean suffers from hypertension.
How does potassium play a role and why is it so important?
Potassium balances the fluids in the body and as you know, the body is made up of about 65% water, which I call biological water. 40% of this water is found in the cells converted into a substance called intracellular fluid. The rest of the water is found in extracellular compartments of which blood plasma and lymph are part; in transcellular compartments of which aqueous humour (eyes), synovial fluid (joints), cerebrospinal fluid (brain and spinal cord), serous fluid (in body cavities), saliva and other intestinal fluids are part.
The amount of water in intra- and extracellular fluids is available and regulated by their concentration of electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium.
Potassium is the main electrolyte in the intracellular fluid and its presence determines the amount of water in the cells. On the other hand, sodium is the main electrolyte in the extracellular fluid and determines the amount of water outside the cells.
The number of electrolytes relative to the amount of fluid is called osmolality and, under normal conditions, this osmolality should be the same inside and outside the cells.
When the osmolality is unequal, water from the side with less electrolytes moves to the side with more electrolytes to even out the electrolyte concentrations. This causes the cells to shrink as the water leaves, or conversely, to swell as too much water gets into them. It is therefore important to ensure that the correct electrolytes, including potassium, are consumed.
Fluid imbalance leads to dehydration which can affect important organs such as the heart and lungs.
Effects of Potassium to Counteract Conditions of Modern Life
High Blood Pressure
According to the Harvard Medical School's Healthbeat magazine, diets that emphasise higher potassium intake can help keep blood pressure in a healthy range compared to low-potassium diets. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to stop Hypertension) test has compared three types of diet.
The standard or normally consumed diet contains about 3.5 servings of fruits and vegetables, providing about 1,700 mg of potassium per day.
The vegetable-rich diet, which includes an average of 8.5 daily servings of vegetables and fruits, contributes 4,100 mg of potassium per day to the nutritional regime.
The combined diet that includes the same 8.5 servings of vegetables and fruits, but, in addition, low-fat dairy products and a significant reduction in both sugar and red meat.
According to this publication, in people with normal blood pressure, the fruit and vegetable-rich diet lowered blood pressure by 2.8 mm Hg (in the systolic reading) and 1.1 mm Hg (in the diastolic reading) more than the standard diet.
The combined diet decreased by 5.5 mm Hg and 3.0 mm Hg respectively, compared to the standard diet. In people with high blood pressure, the "combined" diet reduced blood pressure even more: 11 mm Hg in systolic pressure and 5.5 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
Potassium and Risk of Stroke
Hypertension is a major risk factor for stroke, so it is not surprising that higher levels of potassium are associated with a lower incidence of stroke.
A prospective study conducted in over 43,000 men over 8 years found that men who consumed good amounts of potassium through their diet (an average of 4,300 mg per day) had a 38% lower risk of stroke compared to those whose intake averaged 2,400 mg of the mineral per day. However, a similar study conducted in more than 85,000 women over 14 years pointed to a more modest association between potassium intake and stroke risk.
Subsequent studies have only corroborated these findings with robust evidence supporting higher dietary potassium intakes for both hypertensive and black people, as blacks are more susceptible to hypertension than whites in general.
Osteoporosis is often associated with low levels of calcium, another important mineral for bone health. Interestingly, several studies show that a diet rich in potassium should reduce the amount of calcium the body loses through urine (study)(study).
One study showed that in 62 women aged 45-55, those who consumed higher levels of potassium had denser bone masses (study).
Another study involving 994 healthy, pre-menopausal women found that those who consumed more potassium in their diets had greater bone mass in their lower back and hip bones (study).
kidney Stones Prevention
Kidney stones are clumps of material that are bound to form in concentrated urine. Calcium is a common mineral present in kidney stones and several studies show that potassium citrate lowers calcium levels in the urine. For this reason, it is thought that potassium may help prevent kidney stones.
Some vegetables and fruits contain potassium citrate, so it is easy to add them to your daily diet (avocado, plums, passion fruit, beans, pumpkin and squash).
Studies have been done on both men and women to measure the incidence of kidney stones and it appears that potassium intake is particularly beneficial for men who suffer from kidney stones, even more so than in women. In the following links you can see the studies carried out: Experiment in men; experiment in women.
Reduction in Fluid Retention
Historically potassium has been used to eliminate retained water in the body by increasing urine output and reducing sodium levels. (study) (study)
The studies mentioned here have been done specifically with patients treated for hypertension, but potassium chloride works for any normal person who is experiencing fluid retention.
Because of its ability to reduce fluid build-up, which is also one of the main causes of cellulite, potassium is believed to strengthen the lymphatic system and ensure that it functions efficiently by circulating fluids and flushing toxins from the body.
Prevents and Reduces Muscle Cramps
Muscle cramps occur when muscles contract unintentionally. Muscles contract when they receive signals from motor neurons due to sodium entering the cell and potassium leaving to stop the signal and make the muscle relax.
In fact, a proper balance between sodium, potassium and water is needed to work together and it should be noted that the body is a master at maintaining the balance as long as it is given enough water. Most cramps are caused by dehydration (LACK OF WATER) and as mentioned, the Western diet is full of sodium, far more than is necessary.
Low levels of calcium and magnesium can cause cramps and muscles need adequate levels of both calcium and magnesium to relax, but it is also the presence of potassium that allows us to retain calcium in our bones.
What Potassium Does for your Daily Health
Potassium is classified as an electrolyte because it reacts on contact with water to produce positively charged ions; regulates heart rate; ensures efficient muscle and nerve function; and is vital for protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism.
Virtually 98% of the potassium in the body is found inside the cells. Of that percentage, 80% is found in muscle cells, while the other 20% is found in bones, liver, and red blood cells. It is once it has entered the body that it is called an electrolyte.
The body uses electricity from this positively charged ion for a variety of processes including fluid balance, nerve signalling and muscle contractions, so too low or too high a level can affect critical body functions.
In the Nervous System
One of the main functions of the nervous system is to transmit messages between the brain and the body. These messages are transmitted via nerve impulses and help regulate muscle contractions, heart rate, reflexes and more.
Nerve impulses are generated by the movement of sodium ions in and potassium ions out of cells. This movement of ions changes the voltage to the cell, which activates the nerve impulse. But when potassium levels in the blood drop, the body can hardly generate a nerve impulse. That's where consuming potassium from the diet can help you maintain efficient nerve function.
Regulating Muscle and Heart Contractions
It is the function of the nervous system to regulate muscle contractions, however, altered blood potassium levels can disrupt nervous system signalling and weaken muscle contractions.
Both extremely high and extremely low levels can disrupt nerve impulses by altering the voltage of nerve cells.
The same is true in the heart, as the inward movement of sodium and outward movement of potassium helps to keep the heartbeat regular.
If potassium levels in the blood are too high (hyperkalemia), the heart dilates and becomes flaccid, resulting in weak contractions and consequently an abnormal heart rate. The opposite is also true (hypokalaemia).
When the heart does not beat regularly, it cannot effectively pump blood to the brain, organs, and muscles. In some cases, cardiac arrhythmia can have fatal consequences such as sudden death.
Potassium: The perfect pH balance in the body: how to achieve it with your diet
According to a report by Dr Mark Stengler, the problem does not lie in eating an acidic food, but rather in how specific nutrients influence the pH in the blood, whose optimum level is between 7.35 and 7.45. Even small increases in blood acidity can have negative effects on the body's cells.
Foods rich in calcium, magnesium, and especially potassium or bicarbonate promote alkalinity. This pH enables bones to retain the calcium that keeps them strong. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the major food sources of alkaline potassium, notably spinach and sultanas.
In contrast, foods rich in chloride, phosphates and sulphates are acidifying. You should be suspicious of any food with added salt (sodium chloride), including processed foods in jars, bottles, cans, or boxes, as well as restaurant foods, especially fast food.
Dr Stengler points out that the kidneys play a crucial role in maintaining the body's pH. When acidifying foods lower the pH, the kidneys go on the defensive. Bones release calcium and magnesium to restore alkalinity, muscles degrade producing ammonia which is very alkaline. Eventually, the degraded bone and muscle minerals are excreted in the urine. Over time the acidosis increases and with age it must be reflected in a poor diet. Scientists at this time believe that it is weak muscles that make older people prone to falls and subsequent fractures.
According to Stengler, it is ironic that millions of people consume calcium-rich dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt to have strong bones if, in fact, most dairy products are acidifying. This must explain the large numbers of people suffering from osteoporosis. Eating large amounts of red meat, poultry and seafood is also problematic: the reason is that the breakdown of animal protein in the body releases sulphuric acid, which contributes to more acidic pH levels. Even whole grains are acidifying. However, gentle breathing or meditation is highly alkalising.
How to Get the Right Amount of Potassium to Help Maintain your Body's Alkalinity and a Stable Body Weight
The recommended adequate daily intake of potassium is 4,700 mg, and you often hear that bananas are an ideal source of this mineral, but also other fruits such as apricots, plums, as well as some vegetables such as pumpkin and pumpkin. However, these sources contain a lot of starch and fructose.
Recommendations for getting the right amount of this mineral according to Stengler include,
Limiting your consumption of table salt. Salt consists of sodium and chloride, this combination of the two molecules provides the basis for low-grade metabolic acidosis. Normal people require as little as 1300 mg of sodium per day. The best option is to prefer fresh foods to anything packaged.
Eat plenty of vegetables. Aim for at least 1/3 of your diet to be made up of fresh or, at most, frozen vegetables, and fruit. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that the higher potassium intake found in vegetables and fruits, and the resulting more alkaline pH, was strongly associated with muscle preservation in people aged 65 and older. But be warned: most canned vegetables contain added salt, and many canned fruits contain added sugar.
Stay hydrated. This means drinking water, mainly, not soda, alcohol, or caffeinated beverages. There is water in fruits and vegetables, too. And it's especially important to drink more water if you don't eat enough fruits and vegetables.
Green" vegetable extracts help to maintain pH. These drinks, which also contain barley sprouts, chlorella, spirulina and moringa, come in powdered form and can be included in your green juice or water. Learn my recipe for green extract here.
In general, all vegetables and fruits help maintain a neutral or slightly alkaline pH. Most other foods are acidifying and therefore weakening to bones and muscles. The key is to maintain a proper balance by making a smart mix of foods. For example, have ½ of your dinner plate covered with vegetables, especially leafy greens, ¼ with a lean protein and ¼ with a flour if you eat them. This will allow you to keep your body alkaline.
Acidifying Foods and Alkaline Foods
Acidifying foods: Beef, bread (white and rye), cereal (all, including whole grain), milk, pork, white rice, pasta, potato.
Extremely acidifying foods: alcohol, artificial sweeteners (aspartame, saccharin, sucralose), bread (whole wheat), cheese, chicken, coffee, black tea, eggs, fish (especially trout, cod, herring), nuts (especially peanuts and walnuts), processed (soft) cheeses, brown rice, sausages and other processed meats.
Alkalising foods: fruits and vegetables.
Extremely alkalising foods: coconut water, dates, sultanas, and spinach.
Recipe to Prepare your Electrolyte-rich Drink
- 5 cups of water or aromatic water of your choice (you can substitute coconut water if you don't need to watch your sugar intake)
- ½ cup lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon potassium chloride (or cream of tartar, available in bakery stores)
- 1/8 teaspoon Himalayan salt (you can omit this ingredient, if you wish)
- 2 tablespoons of a magnesium supplement (600 mg which can be a dissolved capsule)
- ¼ cup erythritol powder or 20-30 drops of stevia.