What Level of Potassium Is Needed in the Human Body to Function Correctly?

by Melodie Anne Coffman, Demand Media Google
    Fresh produce adds lots of potassium to your diet.

    Fresh produce adds lots of potassium to your diet.

    You need electrolytes, like potassium, to regulate fluid in your body. Potassium is essential for a steady heart rhythm and proper muscle contraction and nerve function. Since potassium is necessary for these everyday processes to happen correctly, you need a certain level in your body. If your potassium level is too high or low, you can have weak muscles, digestive issues and in severe cases, an irregular heartbeat.

    Normal Potassium Levels

    Your doctor can check your potassium levels through a routine blood test. Ideally, your blood potassium level should be somewhere between 3.7 and 5.2 milliequivalents per liter, which is shown as mEq/L, MedlinePlus reports. Some labs may have slightly different measurements, but if your potassium is below or above this range, it can be a warning sign of something more serious.

    Low Potassium Levels

    A lower than normal potassium level results in a condition called hypokalemia. Typically, hypokalemia happens when you lose potassium from vomiting or suffering from diarrhea over a long period of time, or as a result of diuretics that make you urinate frequently. These are not the only causes of low potassium levels, though. Abnormally low potassium may be a sign of poorly functioning kidneys or might be a side effect of an antibiotic or other prescription medication you take.

    High Potassium Levels

    Several types of medications, like ibuprofen, anticoagulants and prescriptions used to treat high blood pressure, could be spiking your potassium. High potassium levels, known as hyperkalemia, can also be caused by decreased kidney function. If you’re generally healthy, you’re not likely to experience negative side effects from getting too much potassium in your diet. But if your kidneys aren’t working up to par and having a hard time getting rid of the excess potassium, your potassium levels can surge above the normal range. It is possible to overdose on potassium supplements, although you’d have to ingest more than three times your recommended intake at once.

    Toxicity

    Multivitamin-mineral supplements in the United States do not contain more than 99 milligrams of potassium in a serving, so you’re unlikely to get too much from your daily supplement, the Linus Pauling Institute reports. If your potassium levels tend to be on the lower side, your physician can prescribe larger dosage supplements, but he’ll need to regularly check your potassium to ensure it doesn’t get too high.

    Meeting Your Needs

    You need 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day, even if you’re pregnant. Your recommendation doesn’t go up until after delivery, if you’re breast-feeding. In this case you’ll have to get 5,100 milligrams of daily potassium, reports the Linus Pauling Institute. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are some of the best sources of the mineral. You’ll get more than 925 milligrams from a medium baked potato with the skin, over 420 milligrams from a medium banana and nearly 640 milligrams of potassium from one-half cup of dried prunes. Sunflower seeds offer 240 milligrams per ounce, while almonds contain 200 milligrams in an ounce. No matter which type of plant-based food you prefer, you’ll be getting some potassium.

    About the Author

    Melodie Anne Coffman has been writing for various online and print publications since 1996, specializing in human and animal nutrition. After receiving her master's degree in food science and human nutrition, she opened up her own nutrition consulting business in the New England area.

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