Summary of Potassium
Primary Information, Benefits, Effects, and Important Facts
Potassium is an essential mineral in the human diet that is found in relatively high amounts in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. It is commonly seen as the counter-part to sodium when it comes to blood pressure and regulation of water in the body with high potassium diets being associated with reduced blood pressure.
Potassium is relatively unique when it comes to the topic of dietary supplements since it cannot legally be sold in levels high enough to provide much benefit due to safety. As an easily absorbed mineral that influences blood pressure, large doses taken in a powder form can be associated with cardiac arrythmia and in a few cases hospitalization. This has largely prevented wide-scale potassium fortification of foods leading this mineral to be a relatively common deficiency. This risk does not seem to apply to when large amounts of potassium are consumed from the fibrous food it is found in as the foods slow the rate of potassium absorption leading to less of a 'spike' in the blood, known as hyperkalemia.
When it comes to potassium, benefits are seen when it comes to circulatory disorders such as cardiovascular disease and particularly stroke when potassium intake is increased. This benefit is seen when potassium is consumed in minor increases (additional 500 mg a day) or large increases of a few grams over the course of the day, has similar protective effect regardless of the form of potassium consumed (food or supplemental), and shows benefit even if sodium is held constant.
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How to Take
Recommended dosage, active amounts, other details
Potassium is not commonly found in dietary supplements in doses above 85 mg tablets due to concerns about hyperkalemia (high blood potassium) from too much potassium being taken at once. It can still be found in grocery and nutrition stores as a 'salt substitute' (usually potassium hydrochloride) but doses should be kept minimal and always with food.
While most benefit with potassium will come alongside a modified diet to include more fruits, vegetables, and legumes increasing intake via a salt substitute around 500-1,000 mg a day seems to be sufficient for most benefits associated with potassium without posing any risk if taken alongside food.
1.1. Peripheral Distribution
A review assessing the effects of high dose potassium supplements on serum potassium, after assessing 20 studies, found that there did not appear to be a significant dose dependent effect of supplementation on serum levels in the average range of 1,950-2,925 mg a day (divided doses) with an overall range of 858-5,460 mg.
2.1. Stroke and Tramautic Brain Injury
When looking at reviews on the association between potassium intake and instances of stroke, meta-analyses on the subject find protective effects such as a 21% reduced risk of stroke (RR 0.79; 95% CI 0.68-0.90) associated with increasing potassium intake by 1.64 grams a day and 24% reduced risk of incident stroke (RR 0.76; 95% CI 0.66-0.89) associated with dietary levels of potassium near 3,510-4,680 mg; numerous other meta-analyses find similar effects including the US health professional men and nurses cohorts and one 12-year study which found that an increase in potassium as little as 390 mg a day was associated with 40% less death from stroke in adults aged 50-79 in southern California. This risk reduction appears to be greater in magnitude than the beneficial effects of potassium on cardiac health which is thought to be due to potassium not only influencing blood pressure (main risk factor for stroke) but also direct and independent effects of potassium as some studies note a protective effect against strokes even when blood pressure is controlled for.
This beneficial effect does not specifically apply to supplements as a decrease in stroke risk has also been noted with three servings of fruits and vegetable daily, reaching a 22% reduction in the risk of stroke in a manner independent of blood pressure and thought to be due in part due to potassium.
Potassium appears to be highly protective against strokes when consumed in adequate amounts, although the protective effect does not seem dose dependent as both minor and major increases in potassium intake both confer a powerful protective effect
3.1. Bone Density
Potassium intake has been found to have a relation with calcium retention in otherwise healthy adults, with lower intake of potassium being associated with more calcium loss in urine while increasing potassium intake seems to retain calcium and lessen urine losses.
When supplemented, potassium (as citrate) taken over the course of one year in postmenopausal women with osteopenia appears to be effective in reducing some biomarkers of bone turnover such as u-NTX and P1NP suggesting a protective effect on bone mineral density; no apparent changes were seen in lumbar or hip BMD between the two groups however, thought to be in part due to the relatively short length of the study.
While not overly potent, potassium seems to have a protective effect on bone mineral density thought to be due to helping retain calcium better
4Peripheral Organ Systems
When given to rats sensitive to kidney damage, increasing the potassium concentration of the feed from 0.75% to 2.11% or up to 2.6-3.8% at a level similar to sodium (4%) appears to be highly protective against the subsequent renal damage after stroke when compared to lower potassium concentrations; this effect seems to occur without any apparent changes to blood pressure.
The mechanism by which potassium exerts a protective effect against strokes may also influence damage that occurs after a stroke, including kidney damage. It is uncertain if potassium has a direct protective effect outside of stroke-related incidents
Potassium intake is known to reduce calcium loss in urine (via helping the body retain it better) which has been hypothesized to be the reason as to why potassium is associated with reduced risk of kidney stones, with half the relative risk when comparing the highest quintile of intake against the lowest.
Hyperkalemia refers to high blood levels of potassium which can cause symptoms such as cardiac arrythmia or brain damage, with numerous case studies recording such events associated with salt substitutes. While some of these cases were associateed with doses of potassium greatly exceeding the RDA, at least one case has noted usage of potassium supplements at 2,730 mg was associated with hyperkalemia in one Afro-Caribbean man on an ACE inhibitor, although it should be noted a review on the safety of potassium supplements failed to find an association between safety, race, and concomitant usage of pharmaceuticals.
In a review assessing studies using potassium supplements and whether or not they can induce hyperkalemia, it was found that doses of 50-75 mmol (1,950-2,925 mg) taken in divided doses over the course of the day increased serum potassium in a manner which did not appear dose dependent; no side-effects were reported in the review while biomarkers of renal function (urinary and serum sodium and creatinine) were unaffected.
Large doses of potassium, taken in forms that can be absorbed rapidly (usually powders such as salt substitutes), can pose a risk for hyperkalemia and cardiac complications. Lower doses, and divided doses, carry less of a risk
Cite this page
"Potassium," Examine.com, published on 22 November 2016, last updated on
24 July 2018,