A national survey found that approximately 98% of Americans are not meeting the recommended potassium intake by the FDA.
Potassium is a key mineral when it comes to blood pressure and heart health. While sodium is associated with a higher risk of hypertension, potassium is thought to act as a vasodilator, lessening the tension within your blood vessel walls.
Research shows people who consume plenty of potassium have a lower stroke risk. It is also important for muscle strength and nerve functioning.
Most people only consume about half of the recommended 4,700 mg per day, and only 3 percent of older adults meet the adequate intake. However, even if you get the recommended dose per day, you still might have a deficiency. Why? The more sodium you consume, the more potassium your body excretes.
Here are 8 signs of potassium deficiency:
- Weakness and fatigue
Weakness and fatigue are often the first signs of potassium deficiency. Potassium helps regulate muscle contractions and when your potassium levels are low, your muscles produce weaker contractions. Deficiency in this mineral may also affect how your body uses nutrients resulting in fatigue.
Every cell in your body needs the right amount of potassium to function so a drop can result in fatigue. If you’re getting enough sleep, potassium might be the cause of your tiredness or fatigue.
- Muscle aches/cramps
Within muscle cells, potassium helps relay signals from the brain that stimulate contractions. When blood potassium levels are low, your brain cannot relay these signals as effectively. This results in more prolonged contractions which can cause sudden, uncontrolled contractions of the muscles or muscle cramps. Muscle aches and stiffness can be another sign of potassium deficiency.
- Digestive issues
Potassium helps relay signals from the brain to muscles located in the digestive system. These signals stimulate contractions that help the digestive system properly digest food. When blood potassium levels are low, the brain cannot relay signals efficiently. Consequently, digestive system contractions may become weaker and slow the movement of food causing bloating and constipation.
- Heart issues
Heart palpitations are commonly linked to stress or anxiety. However, heart palpitations can also be a sign of potassium deficiency. This is because the flow of potassium in and out of your heart cells helps regulate your heartbeat. These palpitations may also be a symptom of irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmia, which may be a sign of a serious heart condition. If you are experiencing heart palpitations, you should make an appointment with your doctor. If you experience chest pain along with heart palpitations, you should go to an emergency room as soon as possible.
Potassium also helps relax your blood vessels. Without enough potassium, your blood vessels can become constricted which can cause high blood pressure.
- Tingling or numbness
Potassium is important for healthy nerve function. Low blood levels of potassium can weaken nerve signals resulting in tingling and numbness. Those with potassium deficiency may experience persistent tingles and numbness. This is known as paresthesia and usually occurs in your hands, arms, legs and feet.
While occasionally experiencing these symptoms is harmless, persistent tingles and numbness may be a sign of an underlying condition. If you are experiencing persistent tingling and numbness, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
- Respiratory problems
Severe potassium deficiency can cause breathing difficulties. Potassium helps relay signals that stimulate your lungs to contract and expand. When blood potassium levels are severely low, your lungs may not expand and contract properly. Blood delivers oxygen to the body, so an altered blood flow may cause shortness of breath. Also, low blood potassium can cause your heart to beat abnormally meaning less blood is pumped from your heart to the rest of your body also causing shortness of breath.
- Brain function challenges
Low blood potassium levels may disrupt the signals that help maintain optimal brain function. Potassium deficiency has been linked to mood changes and mental fatigue.
Potassium is found in a variety of whole foods. The recommended daily intake for potassium in the US is 4,700 mg.
Below are some foods that are excellent sources of potassium:
- Beet greens (cooked)
- White and pinto beans (cooked)
- White, yams and sweet potatoes (baked)
Note: After the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlighted the underconsumption of potassium as a public health concern, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires food manufacturers to include potassium on their Nutrition Facts labels to make consumers more aware of its importance. The recommended Daily Value was also increased from 3,500 mg to 4,700 mg.