• Ann Taylor

Our need for potassium

Reproduced below is an assignment article I wrote during my nutritional medicine studies about the important mineral potassium, and its relationship with sodium in our bodies. Note the importance for our heart health, bone health, kidney health and blood sugar metabolism; enough reasons to want to have the right amount of functional potassium, not so?

Here we go…

“Potassium (K+) functions in the body as an electrolyte and co-enzyme.

  • It is the major intracellular electrolyte (the most important mineral inside our cells) that exchanges with extracellular sodium (outside our cells) to generate the electrochemical gradient that is the mechanism for nerve pulse transmission and muscle contraction;

  • It exchanges with sodium (Na+) in the kidneys to effect osmotic fluid balance and hence blood pressure;

  • It is also a co-factor for the enzymatic activation of Na+/K+ ATPase pumps (sodium-potassium pump) and of pyruvate kinase, involved in carbohydrate metabolism (Higdon and Drake, 2012).

The mechanism for nerve pulse transmission and muscle contraction is the brief exchange of K+ and Na+ by diffusion across the cell membrane, which changes the electrochemical gradient, before they are pumped back by Na+/K+ ATPase. This action is critical for maintaining normal cardiac rhythm, and hence cardiovascular health.

The ionic balance in the renal tubules is controlled by hormones in response to blood volume and blood pressure changes (Tortora and Derrickson, 2012, p1089). Increasing serum potassium has a blood pressure lowering effect by increasing sodium excretion.

There is strong evidence of the health benefits of potassium in significantly reducing risk of strokes, attributed to its blood pressure lowering effect as well as direct effect on cardiac function (Aburto etal, 2013; He and MacGregor, 2008), along with other nutritional factors in a fruit-and-vegetable-rich diet (Solaiman etal, 2010).

Higher dietary intake of potassium rich foods is also associated with reduced risk of osteoporosis (Zhu, Devine and Prince, 2009), kidney stones, renal disease and diabetes (He and MacGregor, 2008). The alkalising effect of potassium rich fruit and vegetables buffers dietary and metabolic acids that otherwise cause more calcium to be mobilised from bone as the alternative endogenous alkalising mineral (Higdon and Drake, 2012). This may be the cause of hypercalciuria, being elevated calcium in urine.

So before considering medications, why not first consider what dietary changes could be helpful to better balance your minerals for a multitude of protective health benefits.”

Not covered here, is how important the mineral tissue salt potassium phosphate is for our brain function and nervous system; and how cell function is dysregulated by high sodium diets. This I learnt of later in my biochemic therapy studies. I will share more about this in follow-on articles as I endeavour to help you understand how to better support your health through your food choices in the main and biochemic tissue salts as needed for specific symptoms of mineral deficiencies.

See below some of the potassium rich foods we grew in Binnowee Community Garden, and which you may also be able to grow for yourself.


Aburto N, Hanson S, Gutierrez H, Hooper L,Elliott P & Cappuccio F, 2013, Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ 2013, viewed 12 October 2013, <>

Al-Solaiman Y, Jesri A, Mountford W, Lackland D, Zhao Y & Egan B, 2010, DASH lowers blood pressure in obese hypertensives beyond potassium, magnesium and fibre. Journal of Human Hypertension, April 2010;24(4):237-246. in Biomedical Reference Collection: Comprehensive, viewed 12 October 2013. <>

He F and MacGregor G, 2008, Beneficial effects of potassium on human health, Physiol Plant. 2008 Aug;133(4):725-35, viewed 12 October 2013<>

Higdon J and Drake V, 2012, An Evidence-based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals, 2nd edition, Thieme Publishing Group, Stuttgart, New York.

Tortora G & Derrickson B, 2012, Principles of anatomy and physiology, 13th ed., Wiley, USA.

Zhu K, Devine A & Prince R, 2009, The effects of high potassium consumption on bone mineral density in a prospective cohort study of elderly postmenopausal women, Osteoporosis Int. 2009 Feb;20(2):335-40.. viewed 12 October 2013<>