Potassium plays an important role in maintaining the body's fluid balance and cellular structure. This mineral also is essential for proper nerve function and the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates. Potassium also plays a vital role in energy production and the regulation of heartbeat. Potassium deficiency is medically known as hypokalemia.
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Low potassium may cause excessive thirst, insomnia, headache, backache, muscle weakness or cramps, skin problems, tooth decay, fluid retention, cold hands and feet, nervous disorders, a tingling sensation, twitching eyelids or mouth, and sensitivity to cold.
Low potassium can affect a person on the psychological level with symptoms such as reduced mental alertness, poor memory, confusion, irritability, disorientation, depression, boredom, apathetic feelings and mood swings.
Low potassium levels can have detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system, including slow heartbeat and pulse, heart muscle damage, heart attacks, and high blood pressure. Having low potassium may double the risk of stroke and is involved in the development of atherosclerosis and hypertension.
A deficiency of potassium is common in the United States, especially among the elderly and those with chronic disease. Several prescription drugs deplete potassium levels, including diuretics, high blood pressure medications, cortisone, penicillin, aspirin and laxatives. Other factors known to increase potassium loss are diarrhoea, diabetes, fasting and too much sodium in the diet.
The foods that contain the most potassium are fresh fruits and vegetables, especially watercress, bitter greens, bananas, potatoes, lemons, oranges, carrots, cabbage and beets. Other good sources include whole grains, seeds, nuts, wheat germ, salmon and sardines.
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