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Low Potassium Levels Lead to Many Ills

Did you know that nearly one in five people admitted to hospitals have low potassium levels? Itís one of the facts that scientists are discovering as they delve into the reasons that people become ill. As little as thirty years ago, any doctor who suggested that diet and nutrition held the key to eliminating disorders like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer was seen as somewhat of a quack.


These days, itís a rare doctor who doesnít understand that what we eat is a major factor in maintaining health. Scientists and researchers are taking a long, hard look at how levels of various minerals and elements in the body affect and are affected by illness. What theyíve found is that low levels of several minerals are implicated in many common disorders and health problems. Low potassium levels, for instance, are widespread and have been linked to muscle fatigue, general fatigue, cramping and muscle paralysis, tingling and numbness, vomiting and diarrhea, irregular heart rate including arrhythmia and heart palpitations, excessive thirst and urination, fainting, depression, anxiety, psychosis and hallucination. Thatís an impressive list of symptoms to be associated with a lack of just one nutrient.


Because potassium is active in nearly every cell in the body, though, low potassium levels can affect a wide variety of biochemical processes. Even more important, people with moderately low potassium levels may show no symptoms at all Ė but their bodies are being affected nonetheless. Doctors believe that the typical low potassium/high sodium American diet may be at the root of many of the illnesses that are prevalent in America today.


Potassium is one of the most important electrolytes in the body. It is largely responsible for smooth muscle contractions, including regulating the heartbeat and blood pressure. It also is part of the process that synthesizes proteins from amino acids, and helps metabolize glucose and glycogen, which is stored by the body for energy. The body must maintain a finely-tuned balance of sodium and potassium in order for all of these systems to work properly. The importance of the balance between sodium and potassium is one of the reasons that lowering the intake of salt is such an effective treatment for high blood pressure. More and more often, doctors are prescribing potassium supplements and diets high in potassium along with a reduction in sodium to help lower blood pressure and regulate heart problems.


While potassium is found in a wide variety of foods, there are many reasons that people may not get all the potassium that they need from diet alone. Besides the high sodium intake thatís common in American diets, low potassium levels can be caused by treatment with diuretics (common for those with high blood pressure), diabetes, long term use of laxatives, aspirin, digitalis or cortisone, diarrhea and vomiting that accompanies some illnesses and excessive sweating. While the symptoms of severe potassium deficiency that accompanies dehydration are dramatic, those of long term, chronic low potassium levels can be much more subtle. Low potassium is often only diagnosed when a doctor specifically tests for it.


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