Potassium deficiency can be triggered by various factors, such as previous illnesses, medication and improper nutrition. The symptoms of potassium deficiency can range from harmless headaches to serious symptoms such as cardiac arrhythmia and kidney disorders(1,2).
The exact causes of a potassium deficiency and how this can be recognized is the subject of the following article. In addition, we will also go into the treatment of potassium deficiency, explain preventive measures and go into the individually recommended daily requirement in different life situations.
the essentials in brief
- Potassium deficiency symptoms can come in a variety of forms. Typical symptoms are exhaustion, tiredness, headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmias
- Potassium deficiency is usually caused by an unbalanced diet. But certain previous illnesses and medications can also trigger potassium deficiency.
- A potassium-rich diet can naturally treat and prevent potassium deficiency. In the case of very severe deficiency symptoms or pregnancy, a doctor should be involved in the treatment.
Definition: what is potassium?
Potassium is a mineral and is essential for life. The mineral is responsible for signal transmission between different nerve cells or between nerve and muscle cells(3).
In addition, potassium plays a crucial role in protein synthesis and serves to activate the enzymes involved. Potassium also helps regulate pH and blood pressure in the body.
Background: What you should know about potassium deficiency
Potassium is responsible for crucial processes in the human body. Therefore, in the following, we will briefly clarify how high the daily requirement is and what the causes are. What symptoms can be a sign of potassium deficiency and how to identify potassium deficiency, as well as what special features should be considered in pregnancy and children. In addition to potassium, there are other minerals that are important for our well-being and our body.
What is the daily potassium requirement?
The daily potassium requirement varies from person to person. Above all, age influences the need. The table below gives you an overview of the requirements.
|Old||Potassium requirement per day|
|Babies up to 4 months||400 mg|
|Infants 4-12 months||600 mg|
|Children 1-4 years||1100 mg|
|Children 4-7 years||1300 mg|
|Children 7-10 years||2000 mg|
|Children 10-13 years||2900 mg|
|Children 13-15 years||3600 mg|
|Youth 15+ years||4000 mg|
|Adults 18+ years||4000 mg|
|Pregnant women||4000 mg|
|breastfeeding women||4400 mg|
The values given are guide values (4). Just as not every person is the same, the need for potassium can also vary within a certain age group, depending on the level of physical development.
People who should generally consume more potassium are people who do a lot of sport and therefore often lose more potassium through sweat. People with cardiovascular diseases, people who often go on diets or eat saltier foods. People who like to eat liquorice often should also consume more potassium. Nevertheless, the table should serve to provide an indication of your own potassium requirements.
What are the causes of potassium deficiency?
The causes of potassium deficiency can be traced back to a wide variety of reasons. The most banal reason here may be nutrition. We will discuss which foods are particularly high in potassium later.
If potassium deficiency occurs, this can be related to pre-existing conditions and/or medication intake. If medication is taken daily or if a previous illness is already known, the further procedure should be clarified with the family doctor. (Image source: Online Marketing / unsplash)
In addition to diet, previous illnesses and the intake of medications that act on the kidneys can also be triggers for a potassium deficiency. Some diuretics in particular can cause a potassium deficiency. Due to the increased water excretion, potassium is also excreted here(5).
In metabolic diseases such as hyperaldosteronism, potassium deficiency can lead(6). However, a potassium deficiency can also be caused by Chushing's syndrome or increased urinary excretion due to acute kidney failure (7,8).
What are symptoms of potassium deficiency?
The symptoms of potassium deficiency can be varied. Symptoms often appear when there are significant fluctuations, such as a rapid drop in the level of potassium in the blood (9).
Symptoms range from exhaustion, tiredness and headaches to circulatory disorders, which can lead to dizziness. But cramps, nausea and constipation can also be signs of a potassium deficiency.
In particularly severe cases and with a particularly high potassium deficiency, this can also lead to high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmias (10,11). If there is a suspicion of particularly severe symptoms such as cardiac arrhythmia, it is advisable to contact a doctor, as this can lead to chronic damage.
How can potassium deficiency be determined?
In order to diagnose potassium deficiency, modern medicine has different methods at its disposal. The most common method here is the creation of a blood count. Here, the potassium level in the blood is measured. The normal value for an adult is between 3.6 and 4.8 million moles per liter of blood. One speaks of a potassium deficiency when the threshold value of 3.5 million meters per liter of blood is undershot. A potassium concentration of 5.2 million moles per liter is defined as an excess(12).
Potassium deficiency can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, leading to a chronic condition. Therefore, one should react to potassium deficiency as soon as possible. (Image source: Robina Weermeijer / unsplash)
Another common method is the examination of urine and excretions. Here, however, depending on the food consumed, the potassium levels can vary greatly. For this reason, the blood count is the most reliable examination method. Nevertheless, the examination of excretion can be used to identify the cause of the potassium deficiency.
Because low potassium levels quickly lead to abnormal heart rhythms, doctors use an electrocardiogram to identify a potassium deficiency. The heartbeat is recorded electronically and checked for irregularities.
How does potassium deficiency affect pregnancy?
Especially during pregnancy, a balanced diet is of great importance for the well-being of both the mother-to-be and the child. The bigger the child, the greater the need. For this reason, it is important to consciously eat foods rich in potassium during pregnancy. We will clarify which foods are particularly suitable for this further down in the article.
A low-salt diet prevents potassium deficiency.
You should also make sure you consume less salt. Because the more salts are consumed, the more potassium the body simply excretes again. Therefore, this should either be balanced through diet or the amount of salt used should be reduced.
If a potassium deficiency should nevertheless occur, this can be taken through dietary supplements. However, this should be clarified with your personal doctor, especially during pregnancy, in order to prevent a potassium excess. This can be just as damaging as an undersupply.
How does potassium deficiency affect children?
In children, the potassium requirement per day varies greatly depending on age between 1100 and 4000 mg. Since children are still developing, a potassium deficiency should be avoided in particular. In principle, however, the same mechanisms of action apply to children. Symptoms here hardly differ from adult humans. Diagnosis and applied treatment are also used, as in adults, to identify and treat potassium deficiency.
Potassium deficiency: the best methods of treatment and prevention
Potassium deficiency can not only affect you in your everyday life at work or leisure activities in the short term. If potassium deficiency is not treated for a long period of time, it can lead to chronic damage that is more difficult to treat. It is therefore advisable to remedy a possible potassium deficiency quickly and to adjust your diet in such a way that a potassium deficiency is prevented.
What foods help with potassium deficiency
In the following we will look at foods that are particularly rich in potassium and can help to naturally correct a potassium deficiency and contribute to a healthy diet .
Eating fruit can help correct or prevent potassium deficiency. With around 1200 mg per piece, avocados are particularly rich in potassium. But bananas with around 500 mg per piece or raspberries, honeydew melon or kiwi are also real sources of potassium.
A healthy and balanced diet is essential to prevent potassium deficiency. Even one banana a day can help eliminate the potassium deficiency. (Image source: Eiliv-Sonas Aceron / unsplash)
Vegetables can also compensate for a potassium deficiency. Brussels sprouts with around 680 mg per 200g or red peppers with around 520 mg per 200g are particularly suitable here. Legumes, carrots, kohlrabi, corn, fennel and tomatoes are also recommended.
Nuts not only have a lot of unsaturated fats, they are also excellent for combating potassium deficiency. The hazelnut has about 150 mg of potassium in just 20g. Other types of nuts also have comparable values.
Products made from grain contain less potassium than fruit, vegetables or nuts. For example, pumpernickel has about 450 mg per 100g and crispbread about 430 mg per 100g. Other types of bread and grain products, such as oatmeal, couscous or pasta, on the other hand, have even less potassium.
What medications are available to treat potassium deficiency
If the potassium deficiency is serious or chronic and cannot be treated through targeted nutrition, the use of potassium supplements is recommended. There is a wide range of products here. These range from capsules, tablets, powder and drops to suppositories. The latter are used when the potassium cannot be taken orally.
In principle, it is advisable to coordinate treatment with potassium supplements with your family doctor. Because especially with high-dose food supplements, there is a risk of excess potassium, which can have serious consequences such as paralysis and cardiac arrhythmia (13).
Potassium deficiency should generally be taken seriously because, in addition to harmless symptoms, it can also trigger serious blood pressure disorders and cardiac arrhythmias. If treatment is followed up or treatment is delayed, these symptoms can become chronic and require more complex treatment.
Nevertheless, it is relatively easy to treat and prevent potassium deficiency with a well-balanced diet. If there are previous illnesses, a strategy should be developed in consultation with the family doctor to bring the potassium concentration in the body back to the correct level.
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