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POTASSIUM: Most Critical Electrolyte For Your Body? Explained (Including Symptoms)

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in April of 2022. For the original video go to

Brad: Today the topic is potassium. Believe it or not, Chris is the pharmacist, I'm a physical therapist, and we're not nutritionists. However, potassium affects both of our jobs incredibly.

That's why we need to know the basis of it as well as everybody out there because it's an electrolyte, also a nutrient that is absolutely critical to keep you healthy, fit, and pain-free, which is our motto. So you are going to learn what foods you can eat to get this critical mineral or nutrient. Chris is going to go through it. You've done a lot of research on this, it's up to date, and just stay tuned.

Chris: All right, so potassium. I think the title is right, it probably is the most critical electrolyte, mineral, or nutrient for our body. It's in every single one of our cells. Potassium rules the inside of all cells and sodium rules the fluid outside of the cells.

Brad: Salt?

Chris: Salt, sodium specifically. But we'll talk a little bit about that as we progress.

Potassium is critical for muscle functioning, nerve transmission, and bone health. It works in your kidneys, for proper kidney functioning as well as helping to minimize kidney stones.

Brad: I've read something about heart health.

Chris: Yes, heart health, it immensely helps with that. When we have a diet high in potassium, it helps to keep those blood vessels relaxed. And basically, with potassium, interestingly there are just so many things that are intertwined with sodium. The diet that we choose, if it's higher in potassium naturally, will keep our blood pressure low. There's study upon study that shows it's a perfect relationship between potassium in our diet and heart attacks. The more potassium we have, the fewer heart attacks we have.

Brad: Oh really? Now, maybe you're getting into this later but can you just take a potassium pill?

Chris: We'll talk about that. I'm not a fan.

Brad: All right. We're going to get into that.

Chris: We'll get to that later. The good stuff is from the foods we eat. But the higher the sodium in our diet, which is the American diet, and the lower the potassium, the higher the risk of heart disease and heart attack. So, there is study after study, you can go into Harvard medical review you can use some of the simple things like web MD. You can find all of these things if you want to look for yourself. You can go to the National Institute of Health, that's an excellent site. That's going to be a lot more scientific reading. So, if you really dig into the details, it's an excellent site. Just type in potassium, and what it's good for and you're going to find excellent information. I know a lot of people like to kind of look at some of the things that we talked about.

Brad: Yep, dig into the details. And if you're not into that, don't worry about it. Chris is going to give you the information and translate it.

Chris: So, the reality of this is, how much potassium do we really need? For guys, it's a little bit higher than for women. So about 3,400 milligrams what does that really mean? For women, it's about 2,600 milligrams, but if they're pregnant, it's 2,900, so they have some ranges. If you're roughly getting 3000 milligrams of potassium in your diet, it's a good thing. And the cool thing about taking potassium through foods is we can't overdo it. Whereas you had talked about the supplements, you can overdo it. So the FDA actually limits the amount of potassium you can get in that, whether it's potassium citrate or potassium chloride.

Brad: So you get sick from it if you overdo it?

Chris: You can get sick, you can get nauseated and that can cause lesions in your gut. So they actually limit it. I'm not a fan of the supplements. If I have a customer that comes up and says, "I'm just looking to get a little bit more potassium in my diet." First, you want to talk to your doctor because potassium levels themselves are very, very specific. They want you, depending upon the study, basically between 3.5 and 5 is the easiest numbers to remember.

Brad: That's a number you get from a blood test?

Chris: That's the therapeutic window. Yeah. So when your doctor takes blood work from you, they're looking at this number. It's very important for doctors because too much is bad and too little is bad. If you have too much, the side effects are very similar to if you have too little which is kind of weird. You treat it very differently though. If you have too much potassium if that number is a six, and that's Milli moles per liter in case you're keeping score at home, then we want to use a binder and it's an acute medical crisis.

Brad: So you're saying, to get that number in that range you'd have to take supplements? By taking too many of the pills?

Chris: You'd have to take a lot. You'd have to take a bottle to do it, so it's hard. Which is good.

Brad: But you could hardly not eat too many fruits?

Chris: It's really hard because of the way that the potassium is packaged in all these different fruits and vegetables that we have up here. It's a little bit different as far as how it gets absorbed and actually how it's connected and maintained in the foods that we eat. So for whatever reason, and I looked pretty hard, it is really hard to over and imbibe in potassium when you're a healthy adult. Now that's not to say that there aren't things that we have to be careful with. If you have renal failure or kidney failure, or if you have congestive heart failure with renal failure, you cannot eat a lot of potassium, and it can actually backfire on you.

Brad: Even through diet?

Chris: Even through diet, so we have to be careful. So it's always something that, if you're going to make some major changes you should be visiting your doctor regularly and have a conversation with them. Because, let's say you say something like, "Oh, I've got a bad kidney?" A lot of the medical things that we have can go on for years and years and years. All of a sudden, we go in because we don't feel right and find you've got a problem.

Brad: So again if you have congestive heart failure or a kidney issue, then potassium intake needs to be monitored?

Chris: It needs to be monitored very carefully. So like I said, if that therapeutic window is too low, you can feel fatigued. You can feel not right, you can be constipated. Your heart may not beat properly, too high. You can feel nauseated. So the symptoms, when they present to an ER situation if you have hyperkalemia, which is too much potassium, or hypokalemia, which is too low potassium, one is probably caused by diarrhea or dehydration, you could have just excreted it out. Whereas if there is too much potassium, who knows if there's something going on with the kidneys, or if there's something else in your body that's happening. The doctors are going to determine that. But their treatment paths are very different. So if it's too high we have to get it down, if it's too low we have to get it up. We want it basically back in that box.

Brad: So typically, a person will have those numbers if you go to the doctor, they take a test? And if your numbers are a little high, they're going to address diet?

Chris: They will address it with you, yes. And again for healthy individuals, so the vast majority of people on the planet are not going to have a problem with it. It seems like if you eat a well-balanced diet that's oriented high with fruits and vegetables and beans in certain cases, you're not going to have a problem. You can't seem to overindulge; that is the point I guess I was trying to make.

Brad: Right. So as far as those people, what benefits are we going to get if we eat plenty of fruits and vegetables versus stuff out of a box.

Chris: Yeah, that's my least favorite thing. Anything out of a box is bad. I mean, you want a cookie, you want crackers, I think that's fine, but everything is balance and moderation. At the end of the day the key, and I think we touched on it earlier, is blood pressure. So basically, the number one killer in the United States is heart disease. So, if we want to protect ourselves, if we have a diet that's centric on fruits and veggies it's going to help to minimize our blood pressure issues. And oftentimes if you're eating enough potassium in your diet, you're not seeing pharmacists and doctors for meds because your blood pressure is under control. And if your blood pressure is under control, it minimizes your risk for all the other complications that can occur with the heart.

Brad: So we could consider fruits and vegetables to be our medicine?

Chris: In a lot of ways, yeah. I think I've said this before, an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure. A very famous person said that a long time ago and I don't know their name, but I think it might have been one of the surgeon generals. But that said, it's still very important to gravitate to these types of things in our diet and the variety is key, eat the rainbow. In a nutshell, what's a generalized guideline? Anything that's yellow or orange is generally going to have a pretty healthy source of potassium. But you can take that a step further, in a lot of things that are green have a lot of potassium as well.

Brad: It also seems like things that grow in the soil like potatoes or beets, there are under the ground and they're absorbing minerals or whatever from the soil.

Chris: It's a root, so it absorbs the minerals. We can pick on the beet, I make a smoothie with these just about every day, but there is more potassium in these leaves than in the beetroot itself. They each have different values. The beet leaves make an excellent salad, not that I'm a cook or anything, but I throw leaves on burgers if I'm making them. I bet you can toss a salad with this and a little romaine lettuce and spinach, you could get a good salad out of that.

Brad: So people might be asking, how much do I really need? Should I just make sure I eat something from these food groups every day? There are more than just the foods pictured, you can Google it.

Chris: I mean variety is key, yeah, you're not going to want to eat beet leaves every day. Cantaloupe is excellent, bananas are excellent. We don't have oranges up here, we don't have kiwis up here. I mean, we do have an avocado which is very high in potassium. You have sweet potatoes, you have potatoes, I mean, all of these foods. So you just want to put all these things in your diet. Potatoes are an interesting one because, for diabetics, they are not good because it has a lot of sugar and starch. Lots of starch. So you have to be careful. Again, everything in balance, you don't want to eat six potatoes. I mean, that's not going to necessarily do it, you don't necessarily want to have potato salad. Although if it's mixed in, you're still going to get your potassium, but you're going to have all the mayonnaise and all the other things too. Although it tastes good. So you have to balance with what you've got.

Brad: So for myself personally, I find this pretty exciting because I didn't know beets were part of the high potassium. I've been eating avocados, I didn't realize I was eating that much potassium. I've read some nutritional books, and my diet is relatively healthy, but I think I can get it more healthy and enjoy my diet even more through some of this. Now is this going to make me stronger?

Chris: Well I don't know.

Brad: You said potassium helps with muscle contraction.

Chris: It does, right. And potassium is a huge part of any muscle contraction. So if you're going to move your arms up or bench press or run.

Brad: But it's not going to give me bigger muscles?

Chris: It's going to make you bigger, stronger, or faster, but potassium coupled with sodium where there's a whole electrical chemical exchange, but basically it helps to make that muscle contract properly. It's a very critical thing, especially for your heart muscle itself.

Brad: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense, I really like that heart. The stats of people eating more potassium, and less salt, are a clear indication.

Chris: Yeah, there is study after study that shows that. I can't stress that one enough, and the American diet is exactly the opposite. It's too much salt, not enough potassium. If we can just tilt the tetter-totter, so to speak, we make huge changes for everybody.

Brad: What about the nervous system?

Chris: Basically it helps with nerve impulses. So it helps make those cells.

Brad: So functionally is that going to make us more alert?

Chris: No, we're not going to turn into Flash or anything like that but it just allows healthy nerve conduction. It's going to help promote the cell. It's in every cell in our body, I can't stress that enough. It governs a little bit of everything. So I have a 3,600 milligram of potassium diet, it's not going to make you superhuman, it's just going to make you a healthy human. I think that is the thing that we're all striving for is to have balance and healthiness. And I think that's key to the quality of life.

Brad: Right, right.

Chris: So if we can continue to eat a well-balanced diet with good variety, I mean, eat the rainbow.

Brad: What are you talking about eating the rainbow?

Chris: Eat the different colors of foods.

Brad: So the colors have something to do with nutrients?

Chris: Blueberries, avocado. The beets are red. Bananas are yellow. Cantaloupe is orange.

Brad: Berries too, I understand.

Chris: Berries, red raspberries, blueberries. They're not quite as high in potassium, but they all contain it. Find things that you enjoy whether it's throwing them in a blender in a smoothie. Every day I make a smoothie where the staples are beets and oranges, kale, and spinach.

Brad: All right. Well, I think this is incredible information to absorb and change your life. We're going to do another video on just 10 of these items and a little bit of fun on how to make them, because you want to make your eating fun, healthy, and pain-free

Chris: Yeah, because eating should never cause pain.

Brad: That's right. All right, thank you, Chris. Potassium, the big letter K+, it's not special K but it's potassium.

Chris: Potassium, the scientific element, it's the letter K, so thanks, guys.

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