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Potassium - important for cells and metabolism

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The mineral potassium plays an important role for our organism. Our body cells need it to be functional and to regulate important metabolic processes such as cell division, cell growth and energy metabolism. The muscles and our nervous system are also dependent on potassium. In our article you can find out what makes potassium so essential for our health and what you should pay attention to when supplying it in large quantities in order to avoid a deficiency or an overdose.


  • Set element
  • Electrolyte (to regulate the water balance)
  • crucial for the functionality of all cells
  • 98% of potassium is localized within the cells and only 2% is extracellular. The potassium distribution is regulated by various hormones (insulin, aldosterone, catecholamines), by magnesium and the pH value in the blood (acid-base balance)

Functions in our body

  • Regulates the fluid balance in the body
  • Influences the electrolyte and acid-base balance
  • Control of important metabolic processes such as cell division, cell growth and energy metabolism
  • Transmission of nerve signals
  • Release of hormones
  • involved in muscle function
  • regulates blood pressure
  • activates various enzymes e.g. B. in protein and glucose metabolism
  • Part of digestive juices

Recommended intake

  • Infants up to 4 months old 400mg / day
  • Infants 4-12 months 600mg / day
  • Children 1-4 years 1100mg / day
  • Children 4-7 years 1300mg / day
  • Children 7-10 years 2000mg / day
  • Children 10-13 years old 2900mg / day
  • Adolescents 13-15 years 3600mg / day
  • Adolescents and adults from 15 years of age 4000mg / day
  • Pregnant women 4000mg / day
  • Breastfeeding 4400mg / day

Adults on a low-potassium diet (e.g. with kidney disease) should reduce their potassium intake to less than 2g / day.

Which foods are high in potassium?

  • Various types of fruit and vegetables such as bananas, apricots, kiwis, currants, honeydew melon, raspberries, rhubarb, quinces, dried fruit, spinach, tomatoes and tomato paste, cabbage, avocado, carrots, pumpkin, kohlrabi, radish, eggplant, mushrooms, fennel, broccoli, Corn, salsify, paprika and celery
  • Potatoes
  • legumes
  • fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Coffee and cocoa
  • whole grain products
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Milk (also soy milk) and yogurt
  • Herbs (since they are usually only consumed in small quantities, they are also suitable for people who should pay attention to reducing their potassium intake)

Consequences of a potassium deficiency

  • Hypokalaemia (serum potassium concentration below 3.5mmol / l)
  • increased blood pressure (as an antagonist of sodium, potassium has a blood pressure lowering effect)
  • Malfunction of the muscles up to paralysis
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • increased urine output
  • Conduction disorders in the heart
  • fatigue
  • a headache
  • Circulatory problems and dizziness

Consequences of a potassium overdose

  • Hyperkalemia (serum potassium concentration above the normal value of 5.5 mmol / l). A serum potassium concentration above 6-8mmol / l can be life-threatening
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intestinal obstruction or diarrhea
  • general weakness, muscle weakness, cramps and symptoms of paralysis
  • fatigue
  • a headache
  • Sensory disturbances
  • Disturbance of the acid-base balance
  • Muscle twitching and paralysis
  • Disorders of the heart function that can be life-threatening
  • increased need to urinate
  • Confusion and hallucinations

Which circumstances can influence the potassium balance in the body?

  • Decreased potassium excretion e.g. B. due to heart failure, renal failure, kidney failure, diabetic nephropathy or reduced formation of the hormones aldosterone, cortisol or catecholamines
  • massive breakdown of red blood cells after injuries, burns, infections, operations, blood transfusions, tumor dissolutions
  • Diabetes mellitus and insulin deficiency
  • prolonged malnutrition or malnutrition
  • Hyperacidity
  • Severe diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, excessive vomiting and Cushing's syndrome (excessive cortisol production) can lead to a potassium deficiency
  • Alcohol abuse, excessive sodium (table salt) intake as well as very high consumption of licorice or a magnesium deficiency can also lead to increased potassium loss
  • Olive oil increases the absorption of potassium from foods
  • A very high intake of fiber and a lack of magnesium reduce the intake of potassium from food
  • Dehydration due to insufficient fluid intake or profuse sweating can lead to disorders of the water and electrolyte balance

Which drugs influence the potassium supply?

  • ACE inhibitors, potassium-sparing diuretics, beta blockers, cytostatics, potassium chloride, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers all promote the development of hyperkalemia
  • Glucocorticoids, antibiotics, anti-fungal amphotericin B, excessive use of drainage and laxatives promote potassium excretion
  • Cardiac glycosides
  • Immunosuppressant cyclosporine A, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (diclofenac, ibuprofen, ASA) and heparin reduce the excretion of potassium

Further information

The potassium balance is controlled by the body's own hormones. Excess potassium is eliminated through the kidneys. Hyperkalemia is therefore not to be expected - in healthy people - due to excessive intake from food. Potassium supplements, however, should only be taken on medical advice; their use could lead to a dangerous excess of potassium.

An extremely low-potassium diet of less than 800mg / day is hardly feasible, as many foods contain potassium. If you have to reduce your potassium intake, you don't have to completely do without potassium-rich foods. However, you should pay attention to the total intake per day and therefore not combine several foods rich in potassium.

Potassium is a water-soluble mineral. The potassium content in food can therefore be reduced by soaking or cooking, provided the soaking or cooking water is not consumed. Unfortunately, other valuable water-soluble nutrients are also lost as a result. When using table salt, the food loses even more potassium through the exchange of potassium ions with sodium ions. Food should therefore be prepared with as little salt and water as possible, or should only be used for foods that are very high in potassium and only if a reduction in potassium intake is desired.

Products with liquorice juice (e.g. liquorice) increase the excretion of potassium through the ingredient glycyrrhizin. The glycyrrhizin intake should therefore be limited to less than 100 mg per day.

With a glycyrrhizine content of 0.4-1%, a maximum of 10g liquorice should be eaten per day, with 0.2-0.4% a maximum of 25g.


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