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Why Do We Need Potassium?


What is potassium?
Potassium is an essential mineral. Like sodium, it binds readily with other minerals, and does not occur naturally in an unbound state. Potassium is required for the proper functioning of many major organ systems.

Why is potassium necessary?
Potassium is essential for the heart, kidneys, muscles, nerves, and digestive system to operate normally, and is required for regulating fluid balance, the body's acid-base balance, and blood pressure.

What are the signs of a deficiency?
Potassium deficiency symptoms include irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness and mood changes, as well as nausea and vomiting. People with kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease and those who take diuretics may have lower levels of potassium.

How much, and what kind, does an adult need?
Although daily multivitamin supplements may contain tiny amounts of potassium as part of their multi-mineral complexes, Dr. Weil does not recommend potassium supplements, except as prescribed by a physician.

How much does a child need?
Although daily multivitamin supplements may contain tiny amounts of potassium as part of their multi-mineral complexes, Dr. Weil does not recommend potassium supplements, except as prescribed by a physician.

How do you get enough potassium from foods?
People usually get adequate potassium through their diet. Most fruits are good sources of potassium, especially bananas, as are dark leafy greens, potatoes and legumes.

Are there any risks associated with too much potassium?
Too much potassium can cause upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. More serious side effects include irregular heartbeat, mental confusion, tingling or burning sensations in the extremities, and gray skin.

Are there any other special considerations?
Several diuretics cause potassium to be lost in the urine, and potassium supplements are usually taken together with these medications. Other classes of drugs can cause potassium levels to rise, including ACE-inhibitors, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and blood thinning agents such as heparin. Talk with your physician before taking potassium if you have any health conditions.

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