Potassium: An Essential Mineral for Fluid Balance

by Melissa Chichester

Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body, and it is considered an essential mineral because it is involved in the function of every cell in the body.* Most of us probably associate potassium intake with eating a banana, and while that is one source of potassium, it is pretty incredible how this element keeps the body nourished! Potassium plays a role in helping our healthy organs and muscles function, including the kidneys and heart.* Whether it is working with sodium to keep water balanced or helping our muscles properly activate, the 19th element on the periodical table is one that we rely on daily to keep the body running smoothly.*

The history of potassium

Potassium is the seventh most abundant metal in the world, making up 2.4% of the Earth’s crust. The name “potassium” originates from the word “potash,” which references an old method in which elements were extracted from matter. This method involved putting the ashes of burnt wood in a pot and adding water to evaporate the material and extract salts. It wasn’t until 1807 that a Cornish chemist, Humphrey Davy, discovered potassium by isolating it through electrolysis, making potassium the first metal extracted with this method. Davy also coined the popular term “laughing gas” after experimenting with nitrous oxide and discovering that it made him giggle. In addition to potassium, Davy also discovered several other substances, including sodium, calcium, magnesium, and boron.

Potassium in foods

Most of us probably think of bananas when we think about foods that are high in potassium, and it is true that they are. One medium banana contains approximately 422 milligrams of potassium, but there are many foods that rank even higher than bananas when it comes to potassium content. Surprisingly, clams, tomato puree, and white beans all rank higher in potassium content than bananas. Sweet potatoes are another potassium-rich food, coming in with approximately 694 milligrams per one baked potato. Other foods with high levels of potassium include lentils, cantaloupe, and dairy products like plain yogurt. And here’s more good news: your daily cup of coffee also contains about 116 milligrams of potassium!

Potassium in the body

Mineral depletion in the body can be caused by certain medications, overexertion that causes fluid loss (especially with endurance sports, like running), or age. Occasional leg cramps are one of the most common symptoms of a potential deficiency. Potassium functions as an electrolyte in the body and it is needed to help maintain healthy muscle function.* Potassium also plays a role in regulating the body’s water balance in conjunction with sodium.* In the body, proper fluid balance is necessary to keep organs nourished and hydrated. Consuming healthy amounts of potassium through food or supplements helps maintain mineral balance in the blood.*

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