Potassium is one of the minerals necessary for healthy regulation of each organ system in the body. It has many health benefits, including reducing the effects of chronic heart and kidney conditions. In several studies, proper potassium levels have been demonstrated to reduce stress and hypertensive symptoms. Working in a partnership with sodium, potassium helps balance your electrolytes and ensure your body is properly hydrated.
Intense workouts can quickly deplete your potassium stores. This can throw your body out of balance, leaving you feeling lethargic or nauseous. Eating a snack rich in potassium after an intense exercise session can help rejuvenate and refresh you. When your body's potassium levels drop, you could develop a chronic potassium deficiency (also known as Hypokalemia) which may have a significant impact on your health.
One very noticeable symptom of potassium deficiency is heart palpitations. It feels like your heart skips a beat, or sometimes several beats, with a very obvious thump in your chest or a "fluttery" feeling. The good news is that it isn't usually harmful on its own; several stressful situations can cause heart palpitations, including job pressure, smoking too much, or a sudden stressful occurrence. It is also a common side effect of many medications. Your doctor may order an EKG to determine the cause of your heart palpitations.
Overall stress levels raise the cortisone levels of your body; a proper amount of potassium can help your adrenal system regulate itself more effectively. It's also one of the electrolytes responsible for regulating blood pressure and keeping your heart beating in a regular rhythm.
Potassium plays a vital role in muscle health, working with sodium to keep the fibers pulling smoothly and the muscle tissue itself hydrated and properly pH balanced. In fact, working out while potassium deficiency can lead to dangerous muscle spasms and twitches. A sudden drop in potassium levels shows up first in the irregular contraction of your muscles. Low levels of potassium in the body can lead to muscle pain, as the lack of this mineral reduces your muscles' ability to heal and regenerate.
Chronic potassium deficiency, or Hypokalemia, is characterized by painful cramps in the arms and legs in particular. The cramps may also occur in the midst of lifting moderately heavy objects. When this condition reaches the chronic stage, paralysis can occur. Sufferers can also experience muscle pain because low potassium levels directly damage the muscle cells.
Potassium deficiency affects your entire gastrointestinal system, most especially your digestion and the processing of food through your gut. Bloating, excess gas or painful abdominal cramps are symptoms of low potassium levels. In fact, many of these symptoms mimic Dysmenorrhea, which may or may not be relieved by consistently regular bowel movements. Extreme Hypokalemia can lead to complete paralysis of the gut.
Potassium works as an electrolyte in the body, helping to relay the brain's electric signals to the different organ systems. It communicates the brain's instructions to churn food and smoothly pass it through the gut. Without enough potassium, the "instructions" become sporadic, leading to fits and starts in your digestion. As the signals become weaker, your digestion slows, causing bloating and cramps.
Another distinctive sign of potassium deficiency is noticeable tingling or numbness in your hands, feet, toes, and fingers. This is a condition known as Paresthesia, in which you experience sensations without external stimuli. These are similar to the "pins and needles" feeling when your foot falls asleep, but are persistent or chronic versus caused by a specific way you're sitting.
Low levels of potassium can impact the nerve systems in your extremities. Chronic lack of potassium can cause this symptom. However, it is important to bear in mind that paresthesia is also connected to neurological disorders and nerve dysfunctions. If this is your only symptom of potassium deficiency then consulting with a specialist or your primary physician is critical to rule out a more serious medical condition.
Potassium and sodium work together to keep the amount of fluid in your body stable - not too much and not too little - as well as balanced with the proper pH, salt, and minerals. Too much of one or the other can lead to a fluid imbalance - either dehydration or water retention. Excessive water retention is a condition known as edema and can cause parts of the body to swell, especially in the legs.
Fluid retention can be caused primarily by an excess of sodium in your body. The balance of sodium and potassium helps your cells use and excrete water efficiently - throwing off this delicate balance can have severe health effects. If you notice bloating or edema, have your primary care physician check for a potassium deficiency and ensure that you follow a low sodium diet.
Low potassium can lead to nausea, ranging from mild discomfort to overwhelming queasiness that makes it hard to function. As your potassium levels drop and stay low, mild nausea becomes a common condition. This can lead to vomiting after drinking to much water or make it difficult to eat normally. With each rejection, your potassium levels drop further, as your gut has none of this nutrient from food to absorb.
Adding potassium to your body quickly, from sources such as bananas or dried apricots, can help offset nausea and balance your blood sugar. Prolonged potassium deficiency can also lead to constipation, which can worsen the symptoms of edema. There are also natural treatments for nausea such as drinking peppermint or ginger tea. However, before introducing any kind of new treatment to your body, consult with your doctor first.
Potassium transfers the signals from the hindbrain causing your lungs to contract and expand. Irregular breathing when you go about your daily activities is an indication that you may be experiencing a potassium imbalance. When the signals from your brain to your lungs are weak due to low potassium levels, then your lungs aren't able to expand and contract fully.
Irregular heartbeat is also a sign of low potassium and can affect your breathing. When your heart is pumping weakly or irregularly, your lungs aren't getting the blood flow that they need to push them to fully expand and contract. The altered blood flow also causes shortness of breath. This is a serious symptom and should be confirmed by your primary care physician.
Hypokalemia is chronic potassium depletion. Without this valuable electrolyte, the signals for your brain won't go to the rest of your body, specifically your heart. Ineffectual blood pumping and irregular heartbeat can, in turn, make you feel light headed and dizzy. When your potassium levels drop, it affects your body's ability to get oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body. An irregular heartbeat can also lead to low blood pressure.
Having low blood pressure may make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. You may start out feeling unsteady on your feet, but the dizziness will worsen over time. Also, low potassium can make your heart rate slow, reducing your oxygen intake, thus making you faint. Extremely slow heart rates have a greater risk of developing heart failure, cardiac arrest, and sudden death. Fainting can have many underlying reasons. If you experience fainting without any obvious cause, see your doctor immediately.
Fatigue associated with potassium deficiency starts as just a little tiredness, then gradually increases over time. Without proper blood flow in your body, each of your organ systems has to work that much harder. Low potassium disrupts the fluid communication between brain and body, as well as affects the heart's ability to pump blood efficiently. The combination of sporadic communication from the brain coupled with less oxygen delivered makes each system run poorly. This, in turn, leads to exhaustion.
Proper potassium levels can improve your energy and your body's ability to operate. Eating a potassium-rich diet increases your energy levels by making it possible for you to work out and exercise. If you suspect low potassium levels, refrain from strenuous activity a medical professional clears you.
Potassium deficiency has been linked to depression, psychosis, and hallucinations, as well as general emotional health. Fatigue caused by potassium deficiency can also lead to depression brought on by the stress of chronic fatigue. The low potassium levels that disrupt the brain's signals affect its mood regulation ability, specifically the serotonin producers.
Several studies have linked potassium deficiencies with mental health conditions; however, potassium levels alone don't necessarily indicate a mental illness. If you notice that your moods are shifting erratically or that you have depression and worsening symptoms of malaise, contact your doctor for a full evaluation.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.