There is a precarious balance between potassium and sodium within the body: there should always be approximately two parts potassium to one part sodium. Together the two minerals act as a team to regulate water within the body. While potassium does its work from inside the cell structure, sodium works outside the cells. Between the two minerals the osmotic pressure is maintained, approximately equal to the pressure of the circulating blood. Aldosterone seems to decide how much potassium or sodium inhabits the cells. If a person eats too much table salt, the body will excrete nine times more potassium than is desirable. And if potassium is shorted, sodium enters the cells, gorging them with excess water: the result is swelling of tissue in general, usually known as edema.
Furthermore, the electrical charge between potassium and sodium is such that one mineral brings nutrition to the cells and the other takes way the waste products. If this waste is not picked up and converted into urea, toxic poisons can go through the body, creating numerous symptoms seemingly unrelated to any particular organ, endocrine dysfunction or disease. Thus potassium is a natural diuretic. The kidneys rely heavily upon potassium to get the waste products to them for excretion, and the mineral literally invigorates the organs to work at optimum to keep the body cleared of any type of toxicity.
Potassium is a jack-of-all-trades, mingling with phosphorus to insure that oxygen reaches the brain and uniting with calcium to regulate the neuromuscular movements concerned with pliancy of muscles. Without potassium muscle contractions would not be initiated smoothly and glucose would not be converted into glycogen so that it could be stored in the liver or feed the nerves to prevent tension and nervousness.
Because of its function with muscle contractions, potassium can help alleviate constipation. When muscles in the intestinal tract are not fed enough of the mineral, they go into a stage of stasis or sluggish peristalsis, thereby bringing on constipation. If the deficiency is severe, there can even be paralysis of the intestines, creating a dangerous toxic situation.
Potassium is also needed to insure a proper balance of iron. It helps maintain a proper acid-alkaline balance. And it promotes secretion of endocrine hormones that are involved with female functions.
Some sources advocate care in taking pharmaceutical or synthetic brands of potassium because they may have an irritating effect upon the intestinal tract.
Absorbed in the small intestines, potassium has trouble staying in the body after it has been absorbed. Magnesium is essential for potassium to be retained within the cells. And emotional or physical stress can suddenly deplete the stores of potassium within hours. When, rarely, there are excessive amounts of potassium in the body, aldosterone is responsible for stimulating its excretion through the kidneys and urine.
Allies: Potassium's primary ally is vitamin B-6. It is also more effective taken with sodium and magnesium.
Antagonists: Many substances can cause a deficiency of potassium. Coffee and alcohol are the worst offenders; moreover, alcohol is also an antagonist to magnesium, and without magnesium potassium is leached out of the body. Other offenders are common table salt and white sugar: heavy salt users are guaranteeing a deficiency of potassium as well as risking high blood pressure.
Some other sodium byproducts that will induce leaching are sodium benzoate, sodium ascorbate, used commercially in many products, and sodium nitrate, used to preserve meats: it pays to read labels at the grocery store.
Some drugs responsible for blocking or excreting potassium are sodium, lithium, tetraethyl ammonium, aspirin, diuretics, cortisone, DCA, aldosterone treatment and thiazide or digitalis (both used for cardiovascular diseases).
Recommended Dietary Allowance: Although no RDA has been established, many doctors feel that 2,000 to 2,500 milligrams of potassium on a daily basis should be gotten from the diet.
Therapeutic Dose: Under a physician's guidance up to 6,000 milligrams are recommended.
Megadose: Under a physician's guidance 6,000 milligrams or more are recommended.
There is no known toxicity level; however, doctors report that if potassium is injected into the body in dosages that are too large it can be toxic to the point of lethality. The sudden rise of extracellular potassium, injected as potassium chloride, may result in kidney failure. The only other way that too much potassium may remain in the body is if a person is not taking fluids, necessary to provide the causeway for extra potassium to be excreted through the kidneys.
Early warning signals that potassium is below level are a bitter taste in the mouth, dry throat, eczema on the feet and legs, headaches at the back of the skull, itchy, dry skin and an empty feeling in the pit of the stomach.
More discernible signals of a moderate deficiency are muscle weakness, pyorrhea, swollen ankles, swollen ovaries, swollen testicles, a general weakness in the female organs, low grade infections and constriction of the urethra without any medical cause.
Indications of a more serious deficiency are water retention, weakened or flabby muscles, distention of the stomach, inability to digest sugar and an impaired kidney function. The heart may race suddenly and then slow down, seeming like tachycardia, and the person may be extremely sensitive and irritable, displaying some mental disorientation. In addition, regular, daily chores may seem to be almost too much to cope with, and there may be a continual drain on a person's energy reserves, causing muscle weakness.
Prolonged intravenous administration of saline solution will often disrupt the potassium-sodium balance in the body, producing prolonged vomiting or bouts with diarrhea. There may also be loss of muscle tone, constipation, loss of peristalsis and excessive formation of gas.
One of the inevitable results of a deficiency of potassium appears to be high blood pressure. When too much sodium is ingested, potassium is lost and sodium invades the cells, filling them with excess fluids. Then the osmotic pressure, which is supposed to be about the same as the circulating blood, shoots up. The vessels constrict themselves in an effort to slow the blood volume down. The heart then beats faster, and the result is circulatory tension, known as high blood pressure.
People taking treatments for arthritis may also suffer from deficiencies of potassium. Whenever ACTH, cortisone or aspirin are given, sodium is retained, water is held in the tissue, and a deficiency of potassium ensues. Lab experiments on rats indicate that when several one gram tablets of potassium chloride (15 grains each) are administered after the adrenals have become severely damaged, sodium and water are excreted, and the blood pressure decreases. Another report shows that a person who was taking cortisone for severe arthritis took nine grams of potassium chloride daily, reduced to three grams daily later. In the beginning he lost six pounds of water weight, and the blood pressure dropped appreciably.
Patients taking certain medications for heart problems may also be lacking in potassium. For instance, diuretics given to ease the heart's burden of having to pump excess fluids out of the body leach out potassium in the meantime, placing an even greater strain on the heart. In addition, the drug digitalis or vasodilators for heart ailments will not prove effective unless enough potassium is present: without the mineral the heart cannot pump blood with adequate force, and there may be a weakened pulse and weak heart sounds. Tachycardia (the heart racing rapidly for no apparent reason) can be controlled by supplements of potassium as well.
Insufficient levels of potassium appear to be linked with sugar-related problems, such as diabetes and hypoglycemia, too, since the mineral has to do with glucose and the carbohydrate processes. Diabetics are known to have low levels of potassium. And diabetic patients have found relief from the blood pressure problems that accompany the disease with supplements of potassium. Furthermore, potassium, which boosts the entire carbohydrate system, restores energy to the hypoglycemic in dividual by helping to alleviate much of the continued stress on the adrenals that accompanies hypoglycemia.
Constriction or closing of the urethra seems to be related to a deficiency of potassium as well, Paralysis of the bladder and urethra may even occur with a severe deficiency. It has been reported that problems with voiding have been eliminated with adequate amounts of the mineral.
In addition, kidney stones are brought about from a diet of refined food products, too much salt and not enough fruits or vegetables containing potassium. Without potassium the urine becomes alkaline, and the minerals cannot be contained in the solution. At that point they become deposited as stones.
After surgery a condition known as secondary hypokalemia may result because of an extreme depletion of potassium. The condition commonly manifests through episodes of muscular weakness, paralysis and lack of calcium. Saline solutions given intravenously will also deplete the stores of potassium.
Colic, experienced by hundreds of thousands of babies each year, has been found to disappear with injections of potassium chloride.
Potassium can also alleviate some of the ills of older people. Elderly people frequently experience extreme fatigue, apathy, listlessness and depression. They can also become grossly underweight. Several doctors have found that for people over 65 a diet high in potassium or supplements of potassium seem to correct these problems.
In addition, people who have leukemia (overproduction of white blood cells) seem always to have low levels of potassium. So far the medical establishment has not been able to explain why this phenomenon occurs.
Muscular dystrophy (a wasting away and atrophying of muscle tissue) is also thought perhaps to be related to a deficiency of potassium. Doctors postulate that a cell defect in the forming process may allow the mineral to slip away, thereby encouraging weak and flabby muscle coordination, the main symptoms of the disease.
There is a commonly believed myth that a person who works long and hard out in the Sun should take salt tablets. But taking salt tablets will induce a severe deficiency of potassium and instead of helping may hurt the body. Anyone perspiring out in the Sun should take potassium and salt substances together.
Anyone who is fasting to lose weight should probably also take supplements of potassium to help the body over the shock of going from food to no food. Although a preferable way to lose weight than taking pharmaceutical diuretics, fasting puts severe hardship on the adrenal glands. Moreover, a diet low in protein combined with a low intake of potassium will halt the growing process.
A good, natural source of potassium is raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Taken from fermented apples, the vinegar contains a substance called "mothering," a product that contains malic acid, which upon entering the stomach turns alkaline. This malic acid is of tremendous help in rebalancing the acid-alkaline metabolism, as well as feeding the body potassium. A simple solution of two tablespoons of vinegar in one eight-ounce glass of water rebalances the potassium-sodium metabolism.
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