Potassium Deficiency: 4 Signs You May Have It

27 January, 2020
Both cramps and fatigue can be clear indicators of a potassium deficiency. Add foods that contain this mineral to your diet to avoid major health problems.

An imbalance in your potassium levels can affect your nerves and their interaction with the muscle cells in the digestive tract, heart, and other bodily systems. Most of the potassium in your body is found in your cells. As a result, potassium deficiency or hypokalemia can have serious consequences for your health.

A balanced diet should allow you to keep your potassium levels stable with ease. On the other hand, if your diet is very poor and high in unhealthy foods, you may end up developing a potassium deficiency.

But how do you know if you have a potassium deficiency? In today’s article we’ll explain the signs. Pay attention to see if you have any of them.

1. Potassium deficiency: you feel tired and weak

The first symptoms of a potassium deficiency are usually muscular abnormalities. Muscle pain, cramps and feeling unusually weak are common symptoms, as shown in this study carried out by the Evangelismos Athens General Hospital (Greece). This weakness doesn’t just affect the arms or legs, but also the respiratory and gastrointestinal muscles.

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Low potassium levels prevent your muscle cells from rapidly recharging their energy stores. This causes them to have difficulty contracting.

Weakness, muscle spasms, and tingling or numbness in the muscles could indicate that your potassium deficiency is getting worse.

If you already have any of these symptoms, we recommend that you go to the doctor immediately for a check up.

2. You have an irregular heartbeat

A prolonged lack of potassium in the body can affect your heart by altering its normal function. The first symptom of this will be an irregular heartbeat with no apparent cause, as stated in this study by Dr Francisco Tejada Cifuentes. It’s normal for this to happen if you run too hard when you’re not prepared, for example. What’s not normal is for it to occur when you’re simply following your normal routine. A lack of potassium can also cause your heart to beat more slowly. As a result, you may feel dizzy or light-headed.

There are different types of arrhythmia. Some cause the heart to beat too fast, while others make it work more slowly. In the most severe cases, your heart could begin skipping beats. All types of arrhythmias can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from dizziness to fainting. An irregular heartbeat due to any cause can be accompanied by shortness of breath, chest pain, and sweating.

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3. Potassium deficiency and high blood pressure

There are many factors that influence your blood pressure, including family history, being overweight, and your consumption of salt. A lack of potassium can also be a cause. In fact, both too much and too little potassium can trigger changes in your blood pressure.

According to a scientific study carried out by the DASH Collaborative Research Group, eating too much salty food and too little fruit and veg can lead to high blood pressure.

4. Potassium deficiency and cramping

The activity and resting states of your muscles depend on potassium. Relaxation can be voluntary or involuntary, depending on the type of muscle you are working. When you have a deficit of potassium, the muscle is kept in a contracted state that causes cramping, as we explained at the beginning of this article. If you’re familiar with frequent muscle spasms in your legs, it could be due to a lack of potassium.

This is very common in athletes who train a lot. If this is the case for you, it’s a good idea to consume sports drinks that are rich in electrolytes and potassium from time to time.

Foods that prevent potassium deficiency

Whenever we talk about potassium, people always think that bananas are the best source of it. Although it’s true that this fruit does have a good concentration of potassium, it’s not your only option. Among the foods that can naturally help you get the amount of potassium you need, you’ll find:

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Chard

This vegetable is easy to grow at home and everyone should try it. According to information from the Spanish Nutrition Federation, it’s made up of 28% potassium. You can eat it as part of a salad, or in a smoothie.

Bananas

It’s well-known that bananas are rich in potassium, providing 370 mg per 100 grams of flesh. Just remember that if you’re diabetic, you shouldn’t consume too much of this fruit.

Potatoes

If you’re the type of person who enjoys some good mashed potatoes, you’ve probably never experienced any of the above symptoms. Potatoes pack 418 mg of potassium in every 100 grams.

In order to preserve the mineral content, it’s best to consume potatoes that have been baked, grilled, or steamed. Remember to avoid fried potato dishes.

Cabbage

This is another seasonal vegetable that provides 450 mg of potassium per 100 grams. Our favorite options for this vegetable are in salads or baked dishes.

Plus, according to this study by the National University of Altiplano, cabbage also has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Avocado

The avocado provides 487 mg of potassium per 100 grams. You can enjoy it in guacamole, on top of a salad, or in a sandwich.

Spinach

Spinach is an excellent vegetable that you can add to a variety of different dishes. It provides 554 mg of potassium per 100 grams. According to a study carried out by the National Institute of Pediatrics in Mexico, it also contains another important mineral: iron.

Potassium deficiency probably doesn’t really ever cross your mind when you’re thinking about the nutrients your body needs to be healthy. However, it’s important not to forget this mineral, as it plays a fundamental role in many of your bodily functions.

Now that you have a list of the foods that contain it, it’s a good idea to start adding them to your regular diet.

  • Ellison, D. H., & Terker, A. S. (2015). Why Your Mother Was Right: How Potassium Intake Reduces Blood Pressure. Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association.
  • He, F. J., & MacGregor, G. A. (2008). Beneficial effects of potassium on human health. In Physiologia Plantarum. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1399-3054.2007.01033.x
  • Terker, A. S., Zhang, C., McCormick, J. A., Lazelle, R. A., Zhang, C., Meermeier, N. P., … Ellison, D. H. (2015). Potassium modulates electrolyte balance and blood pressure through effects on distal cell voltage and chloride. Cell Metabolism. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2014.12.006
  • Viera, A. J., & Wouk, N. (2015). Potassium disorders: Hypokalemia and hyperkalemia. American Family Physician. https://doi.org/10.1364/JOSA.39.000343