- Potassium in biology
Potassiumis the an essential mineral macronutrient and is the main intracellular ionfor all types of cells. It is important in maintaining fluid and electrolytebalance in the body.
Function in the Body
Potassium is the major
cation(positive ion) inside animal cells, while sodium is the major cationoutside animal cells. The concentration differences of these charged particles causes a difference in electric potentialbetween the inside and outside of cells, known as the membrane potential. The balance between potassium and sodium is maintained by ion pumpsin the cell membrane. The cell membrane potential created by potassium and sodium ions allows the cell generate an action potential—a "spike" of electrical discharge. The ability of cells to produce electrical discharge is critical for body functions such as neurotransmission, muscle contraction, and heart function.
A severe shortage of potassium in body fluids may cause a potentially fatal condition known as
hypokalemia. Hypokalemia typically results from loss of potassium through diarrhea, diuresis, or vomiting. Symptoms are related to alterations in membrane potential and cellular metabolism. Symptoms include muscle weakness and cramps, paralytic ileus, ECG abnormalities, intestinal paralysis, decreased reflex response and (in severe cases) respiratory paralysis, alkalosisand arrhythmia.
In rare cases, habitual consumption of large amounts of black licorice has resulted in hypokalemia. Licorice contains a compound (
Glycyrrhizin) that increases urinary excretion of potassium.
Although low dietary intake of potassium does not lead to
hypokalemiain healthy individuals, many long-term health risks are related to insufficient dietary potassium.
2004guidelines of the Institute of Medicinespecify an RDA of 4700mg of potassium for adultsFact|date=July 2007, based on intake levels that have been found to lower blood pressure, reduce salt sensitivity, and minimize the risk of kidney stones. However, most Americans consume only half that amount per day ( [http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/potassium/AN00884] ). Similarly, in the European Union, particularly in Germanyand Italy, insufficient potassium intake is widespread ( [http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Aktion=ShowPDF&ProduktNr=223977&Ausgabe=230671&ArtikelNr=83312&filename=83312.pdf] ).
Diseases that may be prevented by adequate potassium intake include
stroke, osteoporosis, kidney stones, and hypertension.
Eating a variety of foods that contain potassium is the best way to get an adequate amount. Healthy individuals who eat a balanced diet rarely need supplements. Foods with high sources of potassium include
orange juice, potatoes, bananas, avocados, apricots, parsnips and turnips, although many other fruits, vegetables, and meats contain potassium.
Side Effects and Toxicity
Gastrointestinal symptoms are the most common side effects of potassium supplements, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea. Taking potassium with meals or taking a microencapsulated form of potassium may reduce gastrointestinal side effects.
Hyperkalemiais the most serious adverse reaction to potassium. Hyperkalemia occurs when potassium builds up faster than the kidneys can remove it. It is most common in individuals with renal failure. Symptoms of hyperkalemiamay include tingling of the hands and feet, muscular weakness, and temporary paralysis. The most serious complication of hyperkalemia is the development of an abnormal heart rhythm ( arrhythmia), which can lead to cardiac arrest.
hyperkalemiais rare in healthy individuals, oral doses greater than 18 grams taken at one time in individuals not accustomed to high intakes can lead to hyperkalemia. All supplements sold in the U.S. contain no more than 99mg of potassium; a healthy individual would need to consume more than 180 such pills to experience severe health risks.
* [http://www.brookscole.com/chemistry_d/templates/student_resources/shared_resources/animations/ion_pump/ionpump.html Brooks/Cole publishers – Sodium Potassium pump]
* [http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/potassium/ Oregon State University – Micronutrient Information Center]
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