If you've ever had leg cramps late at night then you know the effects of not enough potassium. In our house this means slow dancing around the bedroom until the pain subsides. A nice immediate remedy for cramps, but slow dancing is not as effective as boosting consumption of potassium.
Potassium is an essential dietary mineral and electrolyte - a substance that dissociates into charged particles, or ions, in solution, making it capable of conducting electricity. Normal body function depends on tight regulation of potassium concentrations both inside and outside of cells.
Potassium is the principal positively charged ion in fluid inside cells while sodium (part of the compound sodium chloride, commonly called table salt) is the primary ion in the fluid outside cells.
The tight regulation of the levels between potassium inside cells and sodium outside cells may help protect against stroke, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease (CHD) and osteoporosis. This control of cell membrane activity is critical for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and heart function.
The Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) Micronutrient Information Table, recommends an Average Intake (AI) of 4.5g of potassium per day per adult.
Residents of industrialized countries take in nearly three times more sodium chloride, normally called table salt, than primitive cultures, whose salt intake is normally about seven times lower than potassium intake. Conversely, the relative deficiency of dietary potassium vs. salt intake in the modern diet may play a role in the progress of some chronic diseases such as stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and kidney stones.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trial demonstrated that a diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and low-fat dairy products substantially lowered blood pressure, an effect that was enhanced by reducing "table" salt intake to 5.8 grams/day or less.
Sensitivity to the blood pressure-raising effects of table salt increases with age.
Diets low in sodium and rich in potassium are likely to be of particular benefit to older individuals because of the increased risk of high blood pressure. LPI recommends a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings/day) and a limit on processed foods that are characteristically high in salt.
Potassium rich food include a medium potato baked in the skin, half a cup of raisins or prunes, six ounces of tomato or prune juice, one cup of cooked lima beans, one ounce of almonds or sunflower seeds and, the old standby, a banana. If you enjoy hot cereal or granola for breakfast, sprinkle in an ounce of sunflower seeds or almonds. If you bake, consider adding sunflower seeds or almonds to your batter, or add one tablespoon molasses (another good potassium source) for part or all the sweetener.
It's absolutely essential to consult your medical professional before starting any potassium supplement. The most serious adverse reaction to potassium supplementation is hyperkalemia which can lead to kidney failure. Individuals with abnormal kidney function and those on popular potassium-sparing medications should be monitored closely to prevent it.
Besides possibly benefiting many different medical problems, the elimination of the pain caused by leg cramps in the middle of night could be a major reward for the adequate intake of potassium. For immediate results however, you might try Gatorade or tonic water. They've worked for us.
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