Potassium is an important mineral that performs many functions in the human body. It helps regulate fluid balance, controls muscle contractions and supports a healthy nervous system.
In a large-scale experiment, it was found that most people in Europe and the USA (98%) have a deficiency of potassium in the body. Scientists believe that the blame for the diet, which is dominated by processed foods over raw foods of plant origin – vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts.
However, low potassium diets are rarely the root cause of potassium deficiency or hypokalemia. This condition is characterized by a potassium value in the blood of less than 3.5 mmol / L. Hypokalemia often occurs from dehydration, when the body drastically loses a lot of fluid. Related problems are: chronic nausea and vomiting, loose stools, profuse sweating or blood loss, in a word, all those ways through which the body can lose water.
In order to recognize this condition in time, you need to own information. Therefore, this article will talk about what is a lack of potassium in the body, and its main symptoms.
8 symptoms of a lack of potassium in the body
Doctors identify 8 main symptoms by which you may suspect the presence of hypoglycemia.
1. Weakness and fatigue
A lack of potassium in the body is often manifested by symptoms of general weakness and fatigue. There are several reasons why a lack of potassium causes such symptoms.
The most basic thing is that potassium is involved in the process of muscle contractions in the human body. When the blood potassium level is low, the muscles produce weaker contractions.
Potassium deficiency can also affect how the body uses nutrients, which leads to fatigue. There is a study that found that a lack of potassium can worsen the body’s production of insulin, which inevitably leads to high blood sugar ( 1 ).
Since potassium helps regulate muscle contractions in the body, its lack can lead to muscle weakness. In addition, there is evidence that a potassium deficiency can disrupt the body’s work with nutrients such as sugar, which can cause fatigue.
2. Muscle cramps
A muscle cramp is an uncontrolled and sudden muscle reaction when a muscle contracts or contracts. Seizures can occur when the level of potassium in the blood is very low.
Potassium helps cells in the muscles to receive and “relay” signals from the brain that stimulate contractions. It also helps stop muscle contractions by leaving muscle cells.
When there is not enough potassium in the blood, the human brain is not able to effectively transmit these signals to the muscles. This leads to much longer contractions, namely muscle cramps.
Potassium helps stimulate muscle contraction, and can also stop this process, being a conductor of signals from the brain. A low potassium level in the blood affects this balance of action, causing involuntary, uncontrolled, and prolonged muscle reactions – contractions called seizures.
3. Digestion problems
Gastrointestinal problems are a symptom with many causes, one of which may be a lack of potassium in the body.
As already mentioned, potassium helps relay brain impulses directed to the muscles. It acts in a similar way on the muscle cells of the digestive system. These impulses stimulate, among other things, intestinal perilstatics, which contributes to the good breakdown of food and its further movement for digestion.
When the blood potassium level is small, the brain cannot transmit signals effectively. Therefore, contractions in the gastrointestinal tract can become weaker and slow down the movement of food. This can cause digestive problems such as flatulence and constipation.
Some studies have suggested that severe potassium deficiency can lead to absolute intestinal paralysis ( 2 ). But other studies have proven that the relationship between potassium deficiency and paralyzed intestines is not well-founded ( 3 ).
A lack of potassium in the body can cause unpleasant symptoms such as increased gas formation and constipation, since potassium is actively involved in organizing the digestion of food by the digestive tract. Some studies show that severe potassium deficiency can paralyze the intestines, but there are studies that refute this.
4. Heart palpitations
If you have ever noticed that your heart suddenly begins to beat faster, stronger, and as if jumping out of your chest, then this may be one of the symptoms of a lack of potassium in the body. This symptom is called heart palpitations, which is usually caused by experiencing severe stress or anxiety.
However, heart palpitations can also be a sign of potassium deficiency. This is due to the fact that the potassium content inside and outside the heart cells helps regulate heart rate.
Low levels of potassium in the blood can cope poorly with this role, which leads to a “flutter” of the heart.
In addition, a rapid heartbeat may be a sign of arrhythmia, that is, an irregular heart rate, which is also associated with a deficiency of potassium. Unlike heart palpitations, arrhythmia can be a symptom of serious heart disease.
Potassium helps regulate the heartbeat, and a low level can cause a rapid heartbeat. Heart rate fluctuations can also be a symptom of arrhythmia, that is, or an irregular heartbeat, which can be a sign of a serious heart condition.
5. Muscle pain
Tension and muscle pain – can be a symptom of a serious lack of potassium in the body. These symptoms may indicate rapid muscle breakdown, also known as rhabdomyolysis. Potassium in the blood helps regulate blood flow to the muscles. When potassium is not enough, blood vessels can narrow and restrict blood flow to the muscles. This means that muscle cells receive less oxygen, which can lead to their rupture. This leads to rhabdomyolysis, which is accompanied by symptoms such as tension and muscle pain.
Muscle pain and tension are another symptom of potassium deficiency, which can also be caused by muscle disorder (rhabdomyolysis).
6. Tingling and numbness of limbs
People with potassium deficiency in the body may experience constant tingling and temporary numbness of the limbs. This is called paresthesia and usually occurs in the hands, palms, legs, and feet.
Potassium is important for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Low levels of potassium in the blood can weaken nerve signals, which can lead to tingling and numbness. These symptoms, which seem insignificant at first glance, can also be a sign of other serious diseases. Therefore, if you experience constant paresthesia, it is best to consult a doctor.
Tingling and numbness in the arms and legs can be a sign of impaired nerve function due to a lack of potassium. If you experience such sensations, it is recommended to consult a doctor.
7. Shortness of breath
Severe potassium deficiency can cause breathing difficulties. This is due to the fact that potassium helps relay signals that stimulate the lungs to contract and expand during the respiratory process. When the potassium level in the blood is low enough, the lungs cannot expand and contract properly. This leads to confused breathing and shortness of breath.
In addition, low levels of potassium in the blood can make breathing difficult due to a malfunction in the heart rate. When this happens, the blood supply to the lungs and other organs is impaired due to abnormal heartbeat. Blood delivers oxygen to the body, so altered blood flow can cause shortness of breath.
In addition, an absolute lack of potassium can even stop the functioning of the lungs, which is 90% fatal to humans.
Potassium helps the lungs expand and contract, so a lack of potassium can cause shortness of breath. Also, a large deficit can stop the lungs from working, which will be fatal with a high probability.
8. Changes in mood
Frequent mood swings and intellectual fatigue are a striking symptom of a lack of potassium in the body.
Low levels of potassium in the blood can disrupt signals that help maintain optimal brain function. For example, a study found that 20% of patients with mental disorders had potassium deficiency ( 4 ). However, there is limited evidence in the area of potassium deficiency and mood. Before introducing any recommendations, more research is needed with more people.
Some studies have found that potassium deficiency is closely associated with mood changes and mental disorders. However, the relationship between them is not fully proven.
What foods contain potassium?
The best way to increase your potassium intake is to include foods rich in this mineral, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, in your diet.
The recommended daily intake of potassium by doctors is 4700 mg.
The following is a list of foods that are excellent sources of potassium, as well as a percentage of the daily intake per serving of 100 grams.
Beetroot leaves (cooked): 26%
Yams (baked): 19%
White beans and white beans (cooked) 18%
Shellfish (cooked): 18%
White potato (baked) 16%
Sweet potato (baked): 14%
Avocado , fresh : 14%
Pinto beans (cooked): 12%
Bananas : 10%
Potassium is found in a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, such as yams, white beans and white beans, potatoes and avocados.
Potassium supplementation. Is it worth taking?
Doctors do not recommend taking a pure potassium supplement, preferring plant sources of potassium. In many countries, the content of this supplement is limited to 99 mg per capsule to avoid overdose. This limit is low enough because high-potassium supplements can damage the intestines or lead to abnormal heart rhythms, which can become fatal. For comparison, an average banana contains 422 mg of potassium ( 5 , 6 ).
Taking too much potassium from a dietary supplement can cause excessive amounts of potassium in the blood or hyperkalemia.
The main symptom of hyperkalemia is arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, which can cause serious heart disease.
Nevertheless, if a doctor prescribed a high dose of potassium on the basis of previous tests, this should not cause any harm to the body.
Potassium supplements are not recommended, as they contain only 99 mg of potassium. Better get potassium from food.
A lack of potassium in the body is quite common. However, the use of a small amount of foods – sources of potassium is rarely a cause of deficiency.
Potassium deficiency usually occurs when the body loses a lot of fluid, as potassium is washed out with water.
Common symptoms of potassium deficiency in the body include: general weakness and fatigue, muscle cramps and cramps, problems with the gastrointestinal tract, heart palpitations, muscle pain, tingling and numbness of the extremities, shortness of breath and unstable mood.
If you observe two or more of these symptoms at home, this is an occasion to consult a doctor to check if you really have a deficiency of potassium in the body. This must be done to avoid potential serious health effects.
Fortunately, increasing potassium levels in the blood is quite simple. Potassium is found in many available foods, including beet leaves, yams, white beans and beans, shellfish, white and sweet potatoes, avocados and bananas.