Potassium is a mineral found naturally in many foods, and is needed for several vital functions of the body, including your heart. Potassium is important in maintaining many body functions: it is needed in muscle contraction, heart needs potassium to beat properly, and it is needed in nerve transmission. The kidney plays a main role in the balance of potassium levels in the body. It removes the excess of potassium through urine.

Potassium is the eighth most abundant element in the body. Almost 98 percent of the potassium is found inside the living cells. The balance of potassium in the inside and outside of the cell is very critical. Only small changes in the level of potassium can have severe effects on the heart, muscles and nerves.

Potassium maintains the cell membrane potential; this potential enables nerve impulse transmission. Nerves are generated by the stimuli like cold/hot or pain; the electrical charge of membrane potential travel along the nerve. This membrane potential is necessary for muscles, both the skeletal and cardiac, to contract. Potassium ions are also involved in the peristaltic movement of the intestine. Potassium act as cofactor for many of the enzymes, like pyruvate kinase. Pyruvate kinase enzyme is found in red blood cells (RBC) which helps in energy production from glucose. Potassium is also important in maintaining osmotic pressure.

Potassium is found naturally in many food items. It is abundant in fruits, vegetables, milk and meat. Processed food may contain extra sodium as salt is used in the processing of many edibles. So, try to grab fresh food.

The optimum/normal level of potassium is 3.5-5.0 mEq/L or  miliequivalent per liter of blood. The 3.5 mEq/L is a threshold level, below this value there is a deficiency of potassium. It is stated that 1 out of 5 individuals hospitalized in the US have low potassium level. Potassium chloride is used to prevent hypokalemia (low blood levels of potassium). Hypokalemia can cause weakness, because low potassium levels can impair cellular processes.

Individuals with eating disorders like bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, patients with Bariatric surgery, AIDS and alcoholism are at the high risk of hypokalemia than other.

A deficiency of potassium can occur due to many reasons. Loss of potassium through the intestine and stomach such as diarrhea, vomiting, excessive use of laxatives, and after the ileostomy operation. Kidney diseases like kidney failure, magnesium deficiency, Cushing’s disease and leukemia are are leading causes of potassium loss due to the kidneys. Malnutrition and eating disorders are also causes of hypokalemia.

Symptoms of low potassium level or hypokalemia are generally mild and can be easily confused with other health disorders. Symptoms mainly involve Kidneys, intestine, heart, muscles and nerves. The patient may feel arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), feeling of nausea or vomiting, low blood pressure, feeling of thirst and increased urination, weakness, tiredness and cramping in the muscles.

Overdosing with potassium is not possible when someone is consuming it from natural sources. However, it may occur in supplement forms that can lead to serious health conditions. Overdose symptoms may include heavy feeling in your muscles, leg discomfort, bloody or tarry black stools, slow or irregular heartbeat, confusion and  shallow breathing.