Potassium is an essential dietary mineral. Potassium is an electrolyte which means it is capable of conducting electricity. Potassium is positively charged inside the cell membrane and together with sodium which is negatively charged in the fluid outside the cell membrane, they form the sodium potassium pump. The concentration differences between potassium and sodium across cell membranes create an electrochemical gradient known as the membrane potential. This is critical for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and heart function.
Potassium is necessary for balancing the pH of the body, normal water balance of the body, normal muscle growth and for healthy nervous system and brain function.
An abnormally low plasma potassium concentration is known as hypokalemia. Symptoms of hypokalemia include weakness, lack of energy, muscle cramps, stomach disturbances, an irregular heartbeat, and an abnormal ECG (electrocardiogram, a test that measures heart function). There are conditions that increase the risk of hypokalemia which are the use of potassium-wasting diuretics, alcoholism, severe vomiting or diarrhea, overuse or abuse of laxatives, anorexia nervosa or bulimia, magnesium depletion and congestive heart failure.
An excess of potassium in the body is known as hyperkalemia. This occurs when potassium intake exceeds the capacity of the kidneys to eliminate it. Symptoms of hyperkalemia include tingling of the hands and feet, muscular weakness, temporary paralysis and in serious cases the development of an abnormal heart rhythm.
Potassium is found in fruit, vegetables as well as whole grains, citrus fruit and molasses.
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