Why We Need More Potassium and How to Get It

Tags: ,

Recent studies show potassium supplementation may reduce pain for some patients. The use of corticosteroids is another reason people with chronic illness may need more potassium.
Why We Need More Potassium and How to Get It

First some very basic background information.

If you’re trying to lower sodium, you may need more potassium

In order for cells to function properly, potassium must be higher in concentration inside of the cells of our bodies than outside of the cells.

A proper balance must be maintained between sodium and potassium. This balance is maintained by the sodium-potassium ATPase, one of the cells’ most important pumps.

Don’t worry about understanding just how these pumps work to create the electrolyte (sodium-potassium) balance. What you need to know is that the sodium-potassium ratio is more important than the level of each in your body. If your cells’ sodium levels are too high, you need more potassium.

Why would people with chronic illness need more potassium?

Here are a few reasons many need more potassium.

Everyone knows vomiting or excess sweating can deplete potassium – but what else?

Other things that can cause low potassium or a potassium-sodium imbalance include some chronic illnesses, especially diabetes, kidney disease, and thyroid disease.

Electrolyte balance is also important in treating many conditions such as heart and kidney disease, and reducing stroke risk. Electrolyte balance is also crucial to controlling hydrops, a form of Meniere’s disease with elevated inner ear pressure.

Taking certain medicines, especially steroids, can lead to electrolyte imbalance. This imbalance can in turn upset the water balance of the cells, which can cause water retention. Glucocorticoids like prednisone can have major effects on the body’s management of electrolytes. People with many different diagnoses often take steroids, including people with rheumatoid disease. There’s even a book about how potassium nutrition can affect medical conditions, including RA.

Foods to eat when you need more potassium

Many foods have a decent amount of potassium. Most of us probably do eat plenty of potassium. However, if you need to improve the sodium-potassium balance, you need more potassium.

Here are some yummy places to start getting more potassium.

Potatoes (including potato chips and French fries!)
Leafy, green vegetables like spinach and kale
Orange juice
Sweet potatoes
Brussels sprouts
Cod, trout, tuna, halibut, salmon
Canned tomatoes, sauce, and paste
Lima beans
Winter squash
Dried apricots and prunes

Other ways to improve the sodium-potassium balance

You can look up any food on your phone with a Google search and find out in 30 seconds how much potassium or other nutrient is in it. I do this all the time to check nutrients. And it takes a long time to go through the grocery store reading labels, but it’s worth it.

Here are some other things I’ve found to help if you need more potassium.

1) Take supplements: In the U.S., the FDA limits potassium supplements to 99 mg. So they are not an efficient means of supplementation. Eating higher potassium food is much better.

2) “Salt substitute” (not, light salt, but the one labeled “substitute”): This has been around for years. There are 610 mg of potassium in a quarter teaspoon of Morton salt substitute. Potassium is actually substituted for sodium in this salt, so in using it as salt, you’re both decreasing sodium and increasing potassium in your diet. Of course you should be careful not to overdo it because a potassium overdose is also dangerous.

3) V-8 Low Sodium: Again, potassium is substituted for sodium. There are 700 mg of potassium in only 5 ounces. Yes, it tastes a little odd, but you can acquire a taste for it. There are much worse things.

4) No salt added canned spinach: There are 490 mg in a little drained 1/3 cup of spinach! And I sprinkle mine with vinegar and salt substitute. That’s a powerful punch of potassium. You can find other vegetables marked low sodium or low salt that have added potassium.

5) You find it! Choose wisely, reading labels for yourself. And Google it, just like everything else. For example many lists will suggest nuts if you need more potassium. However, most nuts are salted – with you know what: sodium chloride. Therefore since you now know that it’s the balance of the two (sodium and potassium) that matters so much, you can read the labels and make the best choices for you.

A final word

I have a friend who was diagnosed with hydrops last year when I had been working to increase my potassium because of problems related to prednisone use and thyroid disease. I’ll tell the rest of my story another day, but what I was learning about how to get more potassium did help my friend hear better.

I read on Pinterest yesterday that apple cider vinegar, a cure-of-the-day for everything, is especially high in potassium. So I looked it up. 11 mg per tablespoon. Eleven. I love vinegar, but I’ll eat it on my kale chips to get potassium. And, yes, I do use salt substitute in that recipe.

There’s really no substitute for common sense though. And a good search engine.

Has potassium helped your pain? Or have you had low potassium?

Recommended reading


McKay LI and John A. Cidlowski JA. Physiologic and Pharmacologic Effects of Corticosteroids. Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. Accessed 2016, Feb 15 [2003]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK13780/

Freuman, TD. The Missing Piece From Your Low-Sodium Diet. U.S. News & World Report. Accessed 2016, Feb 15 [2013, Apr 30]. Available from: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/04/30/the-missing-piece-from-your-low-sodiUum-diet

NOTE: Your comments are an important resource for future readers of this post in the months to come. Please find the comment link below each post.

Click here to read all the comments or add yours!

Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 16th, 2016 at 4:45 am and is filed under Living with RA / Managing RA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


The Post

Comments (6)

What do you think?

Would You Like Free Email Updates?
Stay in touch with RA Warrior.
We respect your privacy. Your email address will never be shared.