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Potassium

Potassium. Where to begin. This mineral has my brain working hard. What I am finding in my research, is somewhat conflicted. It is a fascinating mineral, and I hope I don’t bore you to death getting long winded about it. Potassium gets its name from the salt potash, where it was first isolated, by English Chemist, Sir Humphry Davy.  He discovered it in 1807. The Latin word for Potash is Kalium.

Potassium is an electrolyte. By now, we know that electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge when dissolved in body fluids, and that they allow the body to properly perform critical functions throughout every system. Potassium is critical to survival, and every living cell (plant and animal) requires it. The majority (up to 98%) of the potassium is stored in the bodies cells and tissues. Only about 2% is allowed in the blood, and it is strictly regulated. The body maintains this balance by matching the amount that is eliminated with the amount that is consumed.

Potassium is responsible for maintaining normal function of cells, nerves and muscles. It regulates the fluid balance in the body, and it controls the electrical activity of muscles and very importantly, the heart. Potassium counteracts the effects of sodium, and the body requires a delicate balance between the two. In this way, it helps to maintain blood pressure. It also helps to maintain the balance of acids and bases in the body. Potassium plays a key role in helping to preserve muscle mass. A proper potassium/sodium balance helps the kidneys to work properly, and has a role in energy production. There is new research being done that shows a correlation between potassium/sodium balance and bone health.

Potassium works with several other elements to perform properly, but the potassium/sodium balance seems to be among the top priorities in potassium regulation. The cells pull potassium in, thus pushing sodium out, and creating a pump like action that powers the heart with electricity generated by electrolytes, similar to a small battery. Clearly, this is a big deal. I ran into conflicting information when I got to this part of my research. It appears as though some sources think this is a huge problem in our culture, and others do not recognize it as an issue at all. I am unsure exactly what to think, but I will do my best to share what I have learned, as objectively as I can. I am a little cautious to continue on, without dire warnings. Too much or too little potassium can quickly turn deadly. Please do not start taking potassium supplements in response to this information. If you suspect a potassium imbalance, I can not emphasize strongly enough, how important it is that you never take a potassium supplement unless a professional health care practitioner advises it. There are plenty of healthy foods you can use to increase your potassium intake, and we will get to them, but I am very, very serious, when I say, please see a professional if you are considering a supplement for Potassium.

The potassium/sodium connection deserves its own distinction. The two rely on each other heavily for proper function. You can flush sodium from your body, by increasing the potassium in your diet, and studies have shown that reducing sodium AND increasing potassium in your diet, is a far better way to regulate heart disease and hypertension, than just decreasing sodium alone. The kidneys eliminate extra sodium through the urine, but when they do so, they also eliminate potassium. However, in the same fashion, if the body is deficient in potassium, it will hoard the potassium, and in doing so, will also hoard the sodium. There are some studies that point to the potassium/magnesium balance having an effect on obesity, and bone health as well. The potassium/sodium balance affects every part of the body, and there is a great article highlighting that balance, that you can read by following this link.

Our ancestors consumed sixteen times more potassium than sodium, due to the high potassium and low sodium availability in their diets. For comparison, in modern culture, the average American consumes about two times as much sodium as potassium! Again, I can’t stress enough to check with your doctor before considering a potassium supplement, but you can certainly increase potassium in your diet pretty safely. There are exceptions to this rule though, and it just is not smart to mess with any mineral in your body without some professional supervision. Certain meds, kidney malfunction or heart issues could cause risk of extreme consequences if a person starts altering potassium levels unsupervised. Potassium doesn’t just work in conjunction with sodium though. Potassium is essential to many processes. It helps to enhance Calcium reabsorption. Magnesium is required for the uptake of potassium. A balanced calcium/magnesium/potassium ratio in the body, helps to prevent stroke. Dr. Deanna Minich talks about some of these balances in her article titled “Vitamin and Mineral Interactions: The Complex Relationships of Essential Nutrients”,where she states that potassium deficiency is the most common electrolyte imbalance.

The WHO (World Health Organization) states that we should have a minimum of 3510 mg a day. NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) recommends 4700 mg a day. Both organizations indicate that the majority of Americans are not consuming this much. Some reports go as far as to state that 2% of Americans are consuming enough potassium. Others state that one in five adults hospitalized is potassium deficient. One thing everyone seems to agree on, is that many Americans are potassium deficient. It appears to me that potassium needs are not so generic as stated above, and that they should be based on certain demographics. Here is a nice article, published by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. It contains a chart that can give you more accurate numbers based on demographics such as age and gender.

Hyperkalemia (too much potassium)

The body is great at regulating strict levels of blood potassium. There are a few exceptions to this rule though. You might be Hyperkalemic if you have chronic kidney disease or kidney failure. Certain drugs can cause Hyperkalemia. Other causes can be severe dehydration, Type 1 Diabetes, potassium supplementation not regulated by a medical professional, Addisons disease, or a major injury or burn that causes damage to a large portion of red blood cells. By itself, high dietary intake does not usually cause problems, unless exacerbated by one of the above conditions.

Often there are no symptoms of Hyperkalemia until it is severe. When there are symptoms, they consist of things like nausea and vomiting, irritability, and paraesthesia (tingling/numbness). A slow, weak, irregular pulse, muscle weakness, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping are also symptoms that might present. If the heart becomes too weak, sudden collapse could occur. Medical professionals will use a combination of tests, including medical history, blood and urine tests, and electrocardiographs, to determine if you may be Hyperkalemic. Because potassium levels are rather difficult to get accurate results on, doctors will sometimes repeat tests, as there are many factors that can cause a false high potassium reading. When this happens, it is called Psuedohyperkalemia, and it can be caused by things like the cells rupturing and causing excess potassium to leak out before testing or if you are dehydrated or fluid overloaded. Letting the sample sit too long can cause false results. Contaminants may be to blame also.

Hypokalemia (potassium deficient)

Again, I am finding contradicting information here. Some sources say that Hypokalemia is not usually caused by poor dietary intake, but rather by loss from the GI tract and Kidneys. Other sources state that our highly processed diets, lacking fresh produce and meat, are the reason that so many people are lacking in potassium. Could it be a combination of both? The Mayo clinic lists ten causes of potassium deficiency in this article.  They are:

  • Alcohol use
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Diabetic Ketoacidiosis
  • Diarrhea
  • Diuretics
  • Excessive laxative use
  • Folic Acid deficiency
  • Primary Aldosteronism
  • Some Antibiotics
  • Vomiting

Other possible causes that I found were all related to drugs/medications, chronic kidney problems and other medical complications. Eating Disorders, AIDS, Bariatric surgery, Asthma, and Type 1 Diabetes are all things that could lead to hypokalemia, due to either body processes or related medications. Leukemia, Cushings syndrome (high cortisol levels), and other adrenal disorders, can also play a role. Excessive salt intake combined with inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption can also lead to deficiency.

Symptoms of Hypokalemia are usually mild, and can be quite vague. They include such things as weakness and lethargy, muscle aches and stiffness, cramping in the arms or legs, and tingling or numbness. The digestive system is negatively impacted when potassium is out of balance, and you could see symptoms including nausea and vomiting, as well as abdominal cramping, bloating, and constipation. Frequent need to urinate and excessive thirst can also be indicators. Fainting, low blood pressure, and abnormal psychiatric behavior are also possible if potassium levels in the blood drop below acceptable limits. One article sited increased dietary potassium as a way to relieve sciatic pain. The heart is widely regulated by potassium, and you can expect to experience heart palpitations and breathing difficulties if potassium levels falls dangerously low.

As you can see, potassium is not a mineral to be experimented with or taken lightly. Please see a professional if this information seems relevant to you. The professionals have several options in tests they can run. They are in the best position to help you manage it, and if something doesn’t seem right, get a second opinion. No one knows it all.

Perhaps the most exciting thing yet about potassium, is how abundant it is. Every living cell requires it for basic function. Thankfully, this gives us many food sources to pursue healthier balances. I am going to include the top ones (believe it or not, bananas are way down around number ten on the list), and then I am going to include several links that have excellent charts that highlight the many sources of potassium in our diets. After all I have learned, it really seems that the average healthy adult, can easily manage their potassium intake by being conscious to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Fruits are listed as the number one source of potassium. Potassium is everywhere. We just need to be conscious of the processed foods we are putting in our bodies. This is certainly not exclusive to potassium, and potassium deficient or not, eating unprocessed foods is going to help in more ways than you can imagine.

  • Avocado
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Squash (Acorn, Butternut)
  • Beans
  • Fish
  • Clams
  • Coconut water
  • Variety of fruits

Potassium foods/chart links:

Dr Axe Top Ten Potassium Rich Foods

Health.gov Apprendix 10. Food sources of Potassium

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Kidney Disease: High- and Moderate- Potassium Foods

NHRI 26: Potassium

University of Louisville Potassium Foods List

There are a plethora of colleges that have downloadable charts available besides these listed above. A quick google search of potassium rich foods brings up many more than I can list here today.

Potassium has to be one of the most interesting minerals that I have studied so far. I deeply hope that I have helped you to understand it better. I am going to say it again, and I can’t say it enough, if you suspect a potassium imbalance that simple dietary changes won’t compensate for, please see a medical professional for follow up and possible solutions. It really can be quite dangerous to mess around with if you don’t have all of the necessary information. I typically try to let everyone know that you should always use diet rather than supplements to balance your health if possible, but in this situation, I highly recommend against supplementation at any point, without the help of a professional healthcare practitioner. If you are interested in my sources, or further reading, you can check out the links below. I am also going to include a link to a homemade electrolyte drink recipe that I found on the Weston A Price website. I have tried homemade electrolyte drinks in the past. Some are quite delicious. I have not tried this one, but I want to. If it doesn’t suit your tastes, search around for another homemade electrolyte recipe that does. Just watch the sugars. Some of these recipes can call for a great deal of sweetener, as they are often citrus based in flavor.

Weston A. Price DIY Homemade Electrolyte Energy Drink

Medical News Today  Everything You Need to Know About Potassium

Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council Nutrient Reference Values

Harvard Health Publishing  Potassium and Sodium Out of Balance

Merck Manual Overview of Potassium’s Role in the Body

Dr Deanna Minich Vitamin and Mineral Interactions: The Complex Relationship of Essential Nutrients

Merck Manual Hyperkalemia (High Level of Potassium in the Blood)

Mayo Clinic Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)

MedicineNet Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)

Healthline 8 Signs and Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency (Hypokalemia)

Ducksters Elements for Kids: Potassium

Wikipedia Potassium

National Institutes of Health Potassium

 

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Calcium

 

 

 

As many of you already know, the last several years have been a roller coaster of health concerns for me. I spent the last 8 years trying to find out what was wrong with me. Why it hurt to tears when my husband gave me a playful slap on the behind. I swear it is not aggressive or abusive. Just hear me out. Pain over my whole body. No ambition or energy. Brain fog when I used to be so quick with my whits. No organization. Tons to do but a grand lack of energy to do anything more than daydream about what I wished I was accomplishing. Some days I had some fight in me, and I did as much as I could, but most days, I just felt like there was something wrong with me, and no one could tell me what. Every medical test looks healthy. As a matter of fact, my body is the picture of health for someone my age. Every single test within normal limits. Every image the doctors gush over how perfect my organs look. Great. I am healthy as can be, so why do I hurt so bad? Why can’t I get anything done or stay focused long enough to finish a sentence? Why do I feel depressed when I have all the tools and knowledge to choose happiness? Why do I have symptoms of depression when I am completely content, and even feeling blessed beyond imagination in my life? Why can’t I eat? Why does food hurt my stomach so bad? Why does it hurt to drink water? Doctor after doctor sent me home with no answers. I left so many offices in tears, feeling like I either got no new information, or completely contradictory information from the last Dr. “You have too much stomach acid”. “You don’t have enough stomach acid”. “You have low thyroid”. “Your thyroid is within normal limits”.  It is so frustrating to be told opposite things by every other doctor you see. I was at my whits end. I had shed many tears and prayed many prayers over this. I just wanted an answer. I didn’t care what it was. As long as I could get some truth.

Finally, I landed a great doctor! About a year ago I found her, and I have her on a pedestal so high that she should probably be wearing a safety harness. She does a lovely job of blending Natural and Western health care. A balanced doctor who doesn’t want to just write me a bunch of prescriptions and send me out the door. She is genuinely concerned for my well being and wants me to feel good, and I love her!

When everything came back healthy, she quickly sent me to an OBGYN (my biggest complaint was uterus pain),  who was able to diagnose me with copper toxicity in under an hour. She told me that they don’t have an answer for copper toxicity in western medicine, and that she was going to call a naturopath friend of hers. I am in love with my new team of doctors. They are not too proud to admit that natural medicine has practical applications. Within three days they had me on a copper chelation regimen, and I started to feel better within about five days. When I saw my family practitioner for a follow up after the specialist, she told me to go to the naturopath for further care, because western medicine is just a little behind the times and doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on trace minerals in their studies. I strongly encourage you to see a specialist if you are going to try to “detox” from a heavy metal, as it can be quite dangerous if you aren’t careful.

This got my brain spinning. Trace minerals are the foundation and building blocks of life. How can they not be studied? I decided to do some research of my own. I ran a nutrition class by my doctor. She checked it out and told me it looked great and to go for it. So, I have decided to share what I am learning with you. Someone needs to. This is important information and I believe it could answer many of the unresolved and mysterious health problems that we are seeing these days. Auto-immune disorders and neurological disorders are on the rise at an alarming rate. I have been diagnosed with both celiac disease and fibromyalgia. Though I will likely never be able to tolerate gluten again, I fully believe that with copper toxicity resolution in my life, the fibromyalgia symptoms will disappear. As a matter of fact, they are already diminishing greatly.

Which brings me to the topic of the day. I need information that I can trust. I need information that I can confirm and validate. I am tired of not knowing who to believe. If I feel this way, some of you must too. I have decided that I will write for you, everything I can learn about  minerals. I will start with the major minerals, and write one topic at a time, until I get through them all. Minerals and elements are surprisingly fascinating and enlightening to study. I look forward to the adventure. Today we start with Calcium.

Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body. The majority of it is dedicated to keeping your teeth and bones healthy, while the rest is responsible for such things as maintaining a regular heartbeat, helping blood to clot, sending and receiving nerve signals, assisting the muscles in contracting and relaxing, releasing hormones and other chemicals into the body, and preventing Osteoporosis.

Calcium is an electrolyte. It is important to know what an electrolyte is, in order to understand how it works. Here is the definition of an electrolyte as reported by MedicineNet. 

Electrolyte: A substance that dissociates into ions in solution and acquires the capacity to conduct electricity. Sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and phosphate are examples of electrolytes, informally known as lytes. … 

Most of the calcium in the body is uncharged, but carries a charge when dissolved in body fluids. The body moves the calcium out of the bones and into the blood as needed. The body maintains a strict balance of calcium in the blood, and when people don’t consume enough calcium, the body leeches it from the bones to supply the blood. Osteoporosis is the end result of weakening the bones by taking too much calcium from them. The Merck Manual has an excellent article that goes into more depth about this. The article explains how the calcium is regulated by two hormones. They are the parathyroid hormone and calcitonin. A quick synopsis of the function of these hormones is that the parathyroid tells your body to do such things as release calcium to the blood from the bones, tells the kidneys to excrete less calcium in urine, signals the digestive tract to absorb more calcium and cause the kidneys to activate more vitamin D, enabling the digestive tract to absorb more calcium. Calcitonin slightly lowers the calcium level in the blood, by slowing breakdown of the bones. For a more detailed explanation of this you can refer to the article published by Merck Manual, titled  “Overview of Calcium’s role in the Body”.

When you have too much calcium in your blood, it is called Hypercalcemia. It can be the cause of such things as weakened teeth and bones, heart and brain malfunction, and kidney stones. The symptoms can be non-existent to severe, and are usually caused by overactive parathyroid glands. I found that The Mayo Clinic had a great article that really summed up hypercalcemia well, and is still easy for the average person to understand. Some of the main points of that article, which I would like to highlight for you quickly, are the symptoms and causes of hypercalcemia.

Symptoms:

Excessive thirst and frequent urination. This is because the kidneys are working harder to filter the calcium.

Digestive system troubles, such as stomach upset, nausea, vomiting and constipation. Loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and weightloss are also digestive symptoms caused by hypercalcemia. Because the bones are weakened from too much calcium being diverted to the blood, oftentimes those experiencing hypercalcemia will have weakened bones, bone pain, muscle weakness and fatique. Sometimes these symptoms lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and in rare cases, even coma.

The brain presents with such symptomology as confusion, lethargy, fatigue, constant headaches, depression, and other neurological disorders.

In rare and severe cases, the heart also shows symptoms of hypercalcemia. Heart palpitations, indications of cardiac arrhythmia, and fainting are all possible complications of hypercalcemia.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have calcium deficiency, also called Hypocalcemia. Hypocalcemia results in a long list of symptoms such as fainting, chest pains, heart failure, difficulty swallowing, larynx spasms leading to voice changes, fatigue, seizures, coarse hair, and brittle nails. Irritability, impaired intellectual capability, depression, anxiety, and personality changes are all symptoms to watch for. Psoriasis, dry skin and chronic itching, tooth decay, numbness and tingling in extremities or around the mouth, muscle cramps/weakness, and wheezing, can also be symptoms. Cataracts and Osteoporosis are also often associated with hypocalcemia.

Causes of hypocalcemia can be such things as a Vitamin D or Magnesium deficiency, high sodium intake, high phosphorus intake, chronic kidney disease, abnormal parathyroid function, bariatric surgery, and several prescription and over the counter drugs.

Dr Axe goes into great detail about these symptoms, and the foods that we can eat to remedy the situation, in this article titled “Top Ten Foods High in Calcium & Their Benefits“.

Foods high in calcium include:

  • Dairy products. Milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Leafy greens. Spinach, Kale, Collard greens
  • Legumes. Beans and Lentils, Edamame
  • Seeds. Poppy, Chia, Sesame, and Celery
  • Almonds
  • Rhubarb -small amounts
  • Amaranth
  •  Seafood. Sardines, and Salmon
  • Figs
  • Bone Broth
  • Whey Protein
  • Fortified food and drinks. Cereals, juices

The average person needs to consume about 1000-1200 mg of Calcium per day, from food and supplement sources. Supplements are generally not as readily accessible to the body as food sources are, but sometimes they are necessary. If you find yourself in need of a supplement to increase your calcium intake, do the research and spend the money to get a good one. It will be worth it in the long run.

Like all minerals, calcium works in conjunction with other minerals. Minerals are like a web. All of them require other elements to be at their highest level of efficiency. This is where it really gets tricky. It is easy to upset the natural balance of one mineral in an attempt to balance another. If you suspect mineral imbalances, I highly recommend seeing a naturopath or other alternative healthcare provider for assistance in balancing them. The tests are simple blood and urine panels that reveal how much calcium is in your blood, and how much is being excreted in your urine. This information will help you and your doctor to tailor the best balancing regime for your body. The tests that are usually run are the Total calcium blood test, Ionized calcium blood test, and urine test.

The other elements that we know are critical to make calcium its most effective, are Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Vitamin A and Magnesium. They allow it to be absorbed, assimilated, and properly dispersed in the body as needed. Without all of them in balance, it will be difficult to keep your calcium balanced. It is intricate design, and this is why you should always see a professional before you start messing with your minerals. If you suspect an imbalance of any type, please contact a professional for help getting them regulated. A family practitioner, a naturopath or other alternative care provider, or a nutritionist, are all professionals who can help you to get your calcium levels balanced. I am not a doctor. I only have the knowledge that I gained from the internet and personal experience. Please do not act on this as medical advice. It is only meant to be informative, never diagnostic. I will leave you with links to the articles that I used to find my facts. Each and every one of them has a plethora of great information. I encourage you to follow up with these articles if you have any further questions or wish to explore any aspect of calcium imbalance further.

Follow up links for further reading and reference: