Glossary Detail

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name of the term: Potassium

Short introduction

  • Potassium is a mineral with the symbol K.
  • Potassium is an electrolyte, like sodium and chloride.
  • The human body uses electrolytes for regulating nerve and muscle function and to maintain the water and acid-base balance.
  • Kidneys regulate potassium levels: they maintain blood levels by controlling excretion, even when intake varies. Some potassium is excreted via sweat and the digestive tract.

Main natural sources

  • Richest sources: fruits and vegetables, including spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, citrus fruits, bananas, apples, avocados, raisins.
  • Potassium chloride (KCl) is used as a salt substitute.

Main function

  • Whilst most of the sodium and chloride is located outside the body cells, potassium is found mainly inside the (muscle) cells.
  • As an electrolyte, potassium works together with sodium in regulating nerve and muscle function and to maintain the water and acid-base balance.
  • Required for proper functioning of cells (tissues and organs), nerves and muscles. It is crucial to heart function and plays a role in skeletal and smooth muscle contraction, making it important for normal digestive and muscular function.
  • Needed for a proper carbohydrate metabolism.

Deficiency disease and excess

  • Hypokalaemia (low blood potassium) is mostly the result of an excessive loss of potassium, e.g. from prolonged vomiting, diarrhoea or kidney disorders. Also the use of diuretics may lead to an excessive excretion of water, sodium and potassium via the kidneys. Symptoms e.g.: fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps and intestinal paralysis. This can lead to bloating, constipation and abdominal pain. Severe hypokalaemia may result in loss of muscle function or abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Hyperkalaemia (high blood potassium) may result from kidney disorders or high potassium diets. It may eventually lead to abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Potassium works with sodium to maintain a regular blood pressure. Studies reveal that increasing dietary potassium may provide a protective effect against high blood pressure by increasing the amount of sodium excreted from the body. A high potassium intake has also been linked to a reduced risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.

Recommended daily intake

Latest Dietary Reference Intakes  (DRIs) 
Institute of Medicine (IOM)

Age categoryPer day
Pregnancy
Lactation
4.7 g (AI)
5.1 g (AI))
Infants 6 – 12 months0.7 g (AI)
Children
 1 – 3 years
 4 – 8 years
3 g (AI)
3.8 g (AI)
Males
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years

4.5 g (AI)
4.7 g (AI)
4.7 g (AI)
4.7 g (AI)
4.7 g (AI)
4.7 g (AI)

Females
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years

1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.5 g (AI)
1.3 g (AI)
1.2 g (AI)

 

AI = Adequate Intake.

Synonyms: Potassium

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