Chemically, electrolytes are substances that become ions in a solution and acquire the capacity to conduct electricity. Electrolyte balance in our bodies is essential for normal function of our cells and our organs. Common electrolytes that are crucial to bodily functions include sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate. Potassium is one of the major positive ion (cation) found inside of cells.
Potassium is very important in cellular biochemical reactions and energy metabolism; it participates in the synthesis of protein from amino acids in the cell. Along with sodium, it regulates the water balance and the acid-base balance in the blood and tissues. Potassium also functions in carbohydrate metabolism; it is active in glycogen and glucose metabolism, converting glucose to glycogen that gets stored in the liver for future energy. Potassium is important for normal growth and for building muscle. Potassium keeps the heart beating regularly, helps the nerves send messages and muscles work properly.
Potassium and sodium work together to regulate the water and acid-base balance in the blood and tissues. Potassium enters the cell more readily than sodium and instigates the brief sodium-potassium exchange across the cell membranes. It also works by creating a sodium-potassium pump that helps generate muscle contractions, including regulating heartbeat. The sodium-potassium pump works by pumping two potassium ions into the cell and pumping out three sodium ions. In other words, potassium facilitates the pumping of sodium outside the cell. If sodium is not pumped out, water accumulates within the cell causing it to swell. This is one of the major root causes for hypertension. In the nerve cells, this sodium-potassium flux generates the electrical potential that aids nerve impulses conduct. When potassium leaves the cell, it changes the membrane potential and allows the nerve impulse to progress. This electrical potential gradient, created by the sodium-potassium pump helps generate muscle contractions and regulates the heartbeat.
Because of these reasons, reducing the intake of sodium by in itself is not enough for controlling the blood pressure in people who are salt sensitive; adequate amount of potassium is also critical. Infusions of potassium would cause an increase in blood flow due to arterial dilation and relaxation of smooth muscles. Potassium also activates nitric oxide and thus reduces pressure in the arteries, lowering the risk of hypertension.
Although sodium is readily conserved by the body, there is no effective method for potassium preservation. Even when a potassium shortage exists, the kidneys continue to excrete it. Because the human body relies on potassium balance for a regularly contracting heart and a healthy nervous system, it is essential to strive for this electrolyte's balance. Most adults need about 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. In general, people who consume enough potassium tend to have lower blood pressure than those who do not. And even though high potassium levels lead to healthy blood pressure, there's no proof that taking supplements will make any difference.
Potassium is found in red blood cells, muscles and bones. With a balanced diet of whole foods, you'll likely get all the potassium you need. Baked potatoes are excellent sources – a small one, including the skin, has 738 milligrams. A serving of plain, non-fat yogurt has 579 milligrams; a medium, baked sweet potato with skin has 542 milligrams; and 1/2 cup of cooked soybeans has 485 milligrams of potassium. Bananas, well-known as a potassium source, have about 422 milligrams per medium-sized fruit. Another fruit that is a power house of potassium is the small but mighty kiwi fruit. This furry little egg-shaped fruit has almost as much potassium as a banana for only half the calories. Three fourth cup of unsalted pistachios can give about 1000 milligrams of potassium.
A higher sodium-potassium ratio could not possibly increase the risk of cardio vascular diseases. Piling on the potassium affects your arteries where it counts, deep down in the inner linings of the arterial wall. The endothelial cells serve as the control center for producing nitric oxide, the calming chemical that relaxes the vessels. Changing the potassium to sodium ratio by bumping up your potassium levels is like taking a water pill; it releases extra fluids and sodium through the urine, thereby lowering the pressure on your artery walls. Thanks to the packaged food culture, we get far more sodium in our diet than potassium. If your diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, you can easily take in lots of potassium. Potassium-containing foods are generally considered healthy. If you have trouble getting enough potassium in your daily diet or take medications such as diuretics that cause you to lose extra potassium, a supplement becomes necessary. Whenever possible, consuming potassium food sources is likely the preferred option for taking in this mineral in your daily diet. To make matters worse, not only does the processing of foods like tomatoes and potatoes rise sodium level precipitously, but the natural potassium in these foods declines significantly, worsening the sodium-potassium ratio.
If you're like most Americans, you get far more sodium in your diet than potassium even though your body actually needs smaller amounts of the salty stuff, because of the excess presence of processed foods in typical Western diet, which tend to have far more sodium than natural fare. Insufficient potassium intake may result in a host of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis and high blood pressure, and may increase your risk of stroke later in life. Low potassium levels are also linked to increased urinary calcium excretion, promoting painful kidney stones.
Potassium is really your blood vessels' best friend. Get enough of it in your day by eating fresh fruits and unprocessed whole foods. This can significantly cut your blood pressure numbers and protect your heart. Understand the interplay of sodium and potassium in the diet is the critical factor. To prevent, treat, and reverse high blood pressure, you must make a concerted effort to shake the sodium and power up the potassium – a goal that requires perseverance in a world where the food supply is incrementally processed.
Here are some tips for adding potassium into your diet:
- Snack on salt-free pistachios
- Add spinach to your omelet
- Daily eat 1 banana, 2 kiwis, 10 ounces of spinach, 2 cups of non-fat yogurt, a can of low sodium vegetable juice.
- Use avocado as sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise.
- Fill your fruit bowl with oranges, bananas, kiwis and cantaloupes and snack them through the day.
- Order unseasoned grilled salmon and baked potatoes (salt-free) at restaurants.