By MARY JO DILONARDO, Mother Nature Network
You’re always tired. Maybe your muscles are weak or your heart is racing. The problems may be caused by not enough potassium.
Like all nutrients, potassium is important to keep your body healthy. It’s actually a type of electrolyte that helps your muscles contract and your nerves and muscles communicate. It keeps your heart beating regularly, while also maintaining the body’s growth and keeping the heart, kidneys and other organs working. It helps move needed nutrients into cells while moving waste products out of them.
According to guidelines from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, adults should have at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day. But most of us only get about half that amount, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Sometimes low potassium, also called hypokalemia, is caused when you don’t get enough potassium in your diet. Potassium can be found in foods like potatoes, spinach, bananas, artichokes and milk.
Hypokalemia can also be due to prescription medications that make you lose potassium when you urinate, reports the Mayo Clinic. These diuretics (water pills) are often prescribed to people with high blood pressure or heart disease. Other reasons you might have low potassium include vomiting, diarrhea and kidney disease.
Here are some of the problems you can have when you don’t get enough potassium.
The most common symptoms of too little potassium are weakness and fatigue. Because all your cells and organs need potassium to function properly, when they don’t get enough, your body doesn’t work like it should.
Muscle cramps and pain
Because potassium helps your muscles communicate with your nerves and also helps them contract, when you don’t have enough of the key electrolyte, your muscles can cramp, spasm and hurt.
Low potassium levels slow down various bodily functions, reports Women’s Health, and that includes digestion. When things aren’t moving normally, constipation can result.
Abnormal heart rhythm
You may feel heart palpitations or that your heart is skipping beats. These arrhythmias can make you feel faint or lightheaded. They can be especially dangerous if you have heart disease.
Potassium has a strong link with heart function. A study from researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham found that a high-potassium diet may help prevent hardening of the arteries.
Numbness and tingling
One of potassium’s many jobs is to keep your nerves healthy. When you don’t have enough, your nerves may tingle and feel numb.
Mental fatigue and confusion
Low levels of potassium can affect your mental health, causing issues ranging from brain fog and confusion to more serious problems like depression and hallucinations, reports WebMD.
Where do I get potassium?
Sweet potatoes are a tasty way to chip away at a potassium deficiency. (Photo: mama_mia/Shutterstock)
Here are some good sources of potassium, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
Sweet potato, baked, 1 potato: 694 mg
Potato, baked, 1 potato: 610 mg
White beans, canned, 1/2 cup: 595 mg
Yogurt, plain, non-fat, 8 ounces: 579 mg
Clams, canned, 3 ounces: 534 mg
Carrot juice, 3/4 cup: 517 mg
Halibut, cooked, 3 ounces: 490 mg
Lima beans, cooked, 1/2 cup: 484 mg
Winter squash, cooked, 1/2 cup: 448 mg
Bananas, 1 medium: 422 mg
Spinach, cooked, 1/2 cup: 419 mg
Tomato juice, 3/4 cup: 417 mg
Tomato sauce, 1/2 cup: 405 mg
Milk, non-fat, 1 cup: 382 mg