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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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Magnesium

 

 

 

Good morning my friends! I hope this day finds you well. Continuing on my mission to learn as much as I can about essential minerals that the body needs, I have researched Magnesium this week. Holy buckets! Magnesium is such an amazing mineral. After reading the first article, I was so overwhelmed with where to start, that I took three days off researching to process what I had gathered and how in the world I was going to organize all this information.

Magnesium is a macro-mineral. This means that our bodies need a lot of it for proper function. The hundreds of reactions that it is responsible for are occurring on a nearly constant basis.

Magnesium is an electrolyte. We talked about electrolytes in the last post, but in case you missed that one, electrolytes are substances that carry an electrical charge when mixed with body fluids, allowing them to communicate with the cells in your body. You can learn more about electrolytes here.

Magnesium is necessary for over 300 biochemical processes in the body! Many enzymes rely on Magnesium to function properly. As you can imagine, having an imbalance can wreak extensive havoc in the body. Magnesium plays a particularly important role in the metabolism of Calcium and Potassium. We need it for proper bone and tooth development, as well as normal nerve and muscle function. Magnesium in the blood is strictly regulated by the body. This is why salt baths are effective for a short period of time, but the extra magnesium in your blood is quickly eliminated in your waste, and the effects of a salt bath are short lived. Most (more than half, or 60-70%) of the Magnesium found in the body, is stored in the bones. When blood Magnesium levels get too low, the body releases some from the bones. When it is too high, the body eliminates it through the waste systems.

Magnesium maintains hundreds of processes in the body. Some of the most important ones are to help maintain healthy brain function and to help maintain healthy heart function. It is also believed to be responsible for helping to regulate insulin in those with Type 2 Diabetes. It can help improve sleep quality, as well as help to control migraines and reduce symptoms of depression. Magnesium is an important factor in protein synthesis and it plays a crucial role in muscle and nerve function. Also important is the role that it plays in our energy production. Daily recommendations for magnesium vary by age and gender. This article, published by The National Institutes of Health, has a nice little chart showing how much you need based on those factors.

Hypermagnesemia (too much magnesium)

It is fairly rare to have too much Magnesium in our bodies. The gut and kidneys place strict controls on how much is allowed into the blood. There are few scenarios that will allow for more than the body can use to enter the bloodstream. There are a couple of rare situations where you might have to watch out for too much Magnesium, typically extreme medical cases involving renal failure and supplements that contain Magnesium combined. It is also occasionally used therapeutically, in a closely monitored medical situation, to control neurological function after a cardiac event. Symptoms of Hypermagnesemia include confusion and weakness, decreased breathing rate and in severe cases, cardiac arrest. You may experience nausea and vomiting, or abnormally low blood pressure. Headaches, heart palpitations, and flushing are also symptoms to watch for, and in severe cases, Hypermagnesemia can even result in coma. This would require extremely large amounts of Magnesium in the blood.

There is not a lot of information to be found on Hypermagnesemia, I am guessing because it really is quite rare. Hypomagnesemia (not enough Magnesium), on the other hand, is fairly common.

Hypomagnesemia (Magnesium deficient)

Hypomagnesemia is far more common than Hypermagnesemia. It is caused by things like malabsorption which is often caused by gastrointestinal disease, alcohol dependence, and age. Type 2 Diabetes can also be a factor in Magnesium deficiency. Having high levels of certain hormones present can also decrease Magnesium availability, as well as eating a lot of highly processed foods. Deficiencies can range from mild to severe.

There are many symptoms related to Magnesium deficiency. Fatigue, confusion, or sleepiness are common.  You may also experience personality changes, mental disorders, or irritability. Muscle spasms and tremors can often be traced to Magnesium deficiencies. Loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting, are all symptoms that can develop if Magnesium is not sufficient in the blood. Increased or irregular heartbeat and insomnia are symptoms that you might experience if you are low in Magnesium.  Osteoporosis and Asthma can also be linked to Hypomagnesemia.  In severe cases you might see seizures or coma.

If you suspect a Magnesium deficiency, please contact a medical professional for proper treatment.  Minerals are delicately balanced, and it is easy to disturb the balance of one in an attempt to balance another. Because most Magnesium is stored in the bones, it is difficult to test, but there are tests that can determine the amount in your blood. Those are usually blood or urine panels that your doctor can order for you.

Magnesium has partnerships with Calcium and Vitamin D. The three rely on each other for proper function, and if one is not present in the proper levels in our bodies, the others are likely to be inefficient and unbalanced as well.

Thankfully, Magnesium is found in many common foods. With a little bit of effort, one can certainly get a healthy dose of Magnesium from their diet. I always prefer diet based nutrients over supplemental ones, but if you find that a supplement is necessary, please be certain to get a high quality supplement. Many of the lower quality supplements are abundant in fillers and hard for us to absorb. Better to spend the money on quality supplements that are actually digestible, than to waste money on those that won’t do you much good anyway.  But first, take a look at your diet and see if you can add some of these great foods to your regular consumption habits.

Foods containing Magnesium

  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Beans
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Bone Broth
  • Cashews
  • Chicken Breast
  • Chickweed
  • Dark chocolate
  • Edamame
  • Halibut
  • Kelp and sea vegetables
  • Milk
  • Nettles
  • Oatmeal
  • Peanuts and Peanut butter
  • Popcorn
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Rice
  • Salmon
  • Spinach
  • Unrefined sea salt

With a quick internet search, you can find a plethora of articles and charts showing which food items are high in calcium. I have a couple great articles that list many foods, plus the amounts of Magnesium in each serving, that I will include links to at the end of this post. There is a fantastic article that I found on the Weston A Price site, that is worth the time it takes to read it, if you want to know more about Magnesium.

I am not a medical professional. I have recently developed a passion for nutrition due to my own medical issues. I am only sharing what I have found because I think it is interesting, and more people need to be educated on minerals. Please do not take any of this post as medical advice, and if you suspect an imbalance, please seek the help of a medical professional before attempting to treat them. I can’t stress this enough. The fine balance of minerals in our body is a slippery slope to mess with unsupervised or with lack of proper information.  Below I have listed links to the sources where I got my information. Several are long, comprehensive articles, full of abundant information. I highly recommend further reading, as I am far from an expert on the subject, but it is quite fascinating information.

Wikipedia  Electrolytes

National Institutes of Health  Magnesium

Ancient Minerals  Did you know? Not all Magnesium is the Same

Magnificent Magnesium  

Healthline  Can You Overdose on Magnesium?

Merck Manual Consumer Edition  Hypermagnesemia

My Magnesium Deficiency  How To Test For Magnesium Deficiency

Medical News Today  What is Hypermagnesemia

Ancient Minerals  What is Magnesium? How it Functions in The Body

Dr Axe  Top Ten Magnesium Rich Foods Plus Proven Benefits

Healthline  7 Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency

Ancient Minerals  Symptoms of Low Magnesium

Stylecraze  Top 39 Magnesium Rich Foods You Should Include In Your Diet

Dieticians of Canada  Food Sources of Magnesium