Symptoms and Dangers of Low Potassium
Do you know how much potassium you’re getting? I was looking at some recent research including a national survey which indicated that approximately 98% of Americans are not meeting the recommended potassium intake.
We all know the Standard American Diet is not good–but it’s not just the American diet that favors processed foods over whole plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. This is the standard European diet. This is the standard Australian diet. Most developed first-world countries are primarily consuming processed, potassium-devoid food.
Let’s tie that directly into the research I mentioned at the beginning. A study done by a Chinese hospital and Chinese medical university in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, China on hypokalemia and clinical implications in patients with coronavirus. The researchers found that people that had severe hypokalemia–the technical term for potassium deficiency–and took potassium supplements were inclined to recovery. While the study results don’t directy say a potassium deficiency means you’ll get sick, it does indicate that because of the ACE-2 enzyme and the whole relationship to the virus, that one contributing factor may be low potassium levels. And if you already have low potassium to begin with, then you may have a higher risk of fatality.
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Why Does Potassium Matter?
Potassium is a key part of the sodium-potassium pump. A cell has sodium inside the cell and potassium outside of the cell, and the sodium-potassium pump uses active transport to move molecules from a high concentration to a low concentration by moving sodium ions out of and potassium ions into the cell
The enzyme that’s involved in making this happen is an ATP enzyme. You can identify enzymes because of the suffix “-ase” at the end: ATPase. ATP is important because it is the energy generated by your mitochondria.
Side effects of a potassium deficiency include:
- Muscle or nerve problems
- Mood issues
- Adrenal dysfunction
- Energy issues
- Digestive issues
- Heart palpitations
- Achy muscles, muscle breakdown
- Feeling tired and stiff
- Tingling and numbness issues
One of the big side effects of a potassium deficiency is muscle or nerve issues, because potassium and sodium are very important for the muscles and nerves to work
There is also a potential for mood issues because sodium and potassium play an intricate role with the adrenal glands. Part of the reason why people’s potassium gets low–outside of a poor diet–is going to be because of adrenal function. Typically with the adrenals, aldosterone starts to go low. Aldosterone is a mineralocorticoid that exists in the cortex of the adrenals. As aldosterone starts going low, sodium can start to drop too. As your sodium drops, sometimes your potassium can look like it’s not too bad. It can look actually a little bit high, but you could still actually have potassium issues because of the fact that your adrenals are weak and you’re peeing out a lot of your minerals.
If you have sodium-potassium pump issues, you probably have energy issues too. Healthy mitochondrial function is needed to make ATP for the sodium-potassium pump to work.
Cramping is another potential side effect of being potassium-deficient, because the muscles need the fluid wiring, sodium and potassium, and minerals.
Your bowel movements and your motility starts becoming slower when your potassium drops. We need healthy levels of potassium so we have good bowel movements; otherwise there can be digestive and elimination problems.
Heart palpitations are another potential effect of low potassium, since we need potassium and magnesium for our heart to pump. Our heart is a muscle as well. So if your heart is skipping beats or beating harder or faster, that’s a sign of palpitations, which could be from low potassium.
And other symptoms include tingling, numbness, achy muscles, muscle breakdown, feeling tired and stiff. The breakdown of muscle is known as rhabdomyolysis and that breakdown is going to be very much helped with good potassium levels. You’re going to have less muscle breakdown with potassium levels being adequate.
If you have any symptoms of a potassium deficiency, please reach out to a qualified professional to test your levels and determine your next steps.