Potassium Supplements: The Basics and Who Should Take Them

March 31, 2019

Supplements are wildly popular in the healthcare industry. The truth is, many supplements are only useful in certain situations. The vast majority of individuals get proper nutrition including vitamins and minerals from a healthy diet.

Potassium supplements are no exception. We’re often asked whether a potassium supplement is beneficial. Here, we’ll dive into the details of potassium supplements so you can decide if taking one is the right choice for you.

What Are Potassium Supplements?

Potassium is an essential mineral that the body uses to regulate processes in the kidneys, heart, and nervous system. Potassium supplements are concentrated forms of potassium. They are available in pill, tablet and powder forms. Most people get an adequate amount of potassium by eating a healthy diet. Dietary potassium can be found in foods including sweet potatoes, avocados, bananas, and spinach.

Some people — particularly those who have an existing health condition — may suffer from low potassium levels. People who take potassium-sparing diuretics such as spironolactone for kidney disease and liver scarring tend to have lower levels of potassium. Additionally, people who work in hard labor or exercise in high-temperature climates are more likely to suffer from low potassium levels. Eating disorders, smoking, and alcohol abuse can also contribute to the condition.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States does not have a set recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for potassium. However, they have established an Adequate Intake (AI) of 3,400 milligrams for people over the age of 19. The AI does not apply to individuals who have low potassium due to health problems including heart failure and inadequate kidney function (1).

When the body doesn't get enough potassium the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke increase dramatically. If you have a potassium deficiency, physicians may recommend taking a potassium dietary supplement or changing your diet to incorporate potassium-rich foods.

Who Should Take Potassium Supplements

Most people get an adequate amount of potassium from a regular diet. However, some people who do not consume the proper foods may be missing out on the essential nutrient. Additionally, people with certain medical conditions may not be able to properly absorb the nutrient. That’s where potassium supplements become useful.

People who take diuretics may benefit from a potassium supplement because much of the nutrient is lost in the urine. Potassium supplements are also beneficial for people who suffer from hypokalemia — a condition where potassium in the blood is too low.

In certain cases, potassium supplements may be prescribed to patients who suffer from high blood pressure. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders or AIDS may also be prescribed potassium supplements or intravenous potassium in severe cases.

Side Effects of Potassium Supplements

High doses of potassium can lead to health problems including irregular heartbeat, heart rhythms, muscle weakness, upset stomach, dizziness, and cardiac arrest.

Potassium supplements come in several forms including potassium chloride, potassium citrate, bicarbonate, and gluconate (1). Most potassium supplements contain a maximum of 99 milligrams of potassium — just 3 percent of the adequate daily intake recommendation. That's because the FDA has limited potassium in over-the-counter supplements due to potential side effects.

Clinical trials show that higher levels of potassium may cause small lesions in the bowels (2). The FDA requires salt substitutes with more than 99 milligrams of potassium to carry a warning about these side effects. As a result, most oral potassium tablets are recommended only in certain situations. For the majority of the population, eating a diet rich in potassium is a better alternative.

Treating Potassium Deficiency

If you think you may suffer from a potassium deficiency, seek medical advice from a qualified physician. They can help you determine the source of the problem and monitor your potassium intake and sodium intake. A health care professional will also take into account any contributing factors including low blood sugar, ACE inhibitors, and kidney stones to help determine the best treatment options.

Remember, most people can get an adequate amount of potassium from a healthy diet. Good sources of potassium include peas, cucumbers, mushrooms, and fruits including cantaloupe, apricots, and grapefruit. The health benefits of a well-rounded diet don't end with potassium. A healthy diet can improve weight loss, increase bone density, and boost good health.

Sources:

1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/potassium-HealthProfessional/

2. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=201.306

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