Potassium- The Hidden Superhero!

Scott Braver
6 min readMay 15, 2021
Photo by Franco Antonio Giovanella on Unsplash

There are quite a few electrolytes that are almost superhuman in their abilities to manage and regulate many processes within the human body.

From sodium to magnesium, phosphorus to potassium, and everything in between. Each electrolyte has its specific role AND they play nicely with others.

Some have a love-hate relationship and some have a love love relationship. It really depends on their role and the action they are completing within our bodies.

I am going to primarily focus on potassium, this go around, and try to illustrate how instrumental this electrolyte is in just about every cellular process in our bodies.

In The Beginning

Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

Looking at the very basic component- there are two elements (electrolytes) that play an interactive role. Sodium and potassium have a very love-hate relationship with one another.

Many electrolytes act as a counterbalance when one gets too out of whack to compensate and keep our bodies alive.

They do this because they have a positive and negative charge to the electrolytes.

In the cellular space, sodium is pretty much found outside the cell, and potassium is predominately found inside the cell. Because of the electrical charges that go on, more sodium can be pushed into the cell, thus pushing more potassium out.

This process occurs every second of every day within our bodies and is called the sodium-potassium pump.

That process is the basis for every living body to produce energy. Without it, we would cease to exist.

Keeping this in mind. Let’s look at the roles that potassium, in itself, has a hand in and how it impacts our bodily functions.

One of the biggest roles that potassium has is maintaining our neuromuscular function. Essentially, it helps with the transmission and conduction of nerve impulses, maintenance of regular heartbeats, and contraction of skeletal and smooth muscles.

Potassium is typically found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, and some fruits.

Unfortunately, in the Standard American Diet (SAD), we don’t get a whole bunch of real foods and the foods we consume are inundated with high amounts of sodium.

Remember how some electrolytes have a love-hate relationship? Well, if it wasn’t clear already with the sodium-potassium pump- if one moves in the other moves out, sodium and potassium don’t get along that well.

Because we consume high amounts of sodium, it alters our cellular structures and drives potassium out of the cell and into the surrounding fluid.

Potassium doesn’t do that well out of the cell and it can affect things like muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, insulin levels, and blood pressure.

How Can Superheroes Help Us?

Photo by Marjan Blan | @marjanblan on Unsplash

Much like any other Superhero, they are in the business to help protect us and keep us out of harm’s way.

Certainly, if they start losing in a fight, we can also suffer the consequences.

We need them just as much as they need us.

Well, if we aren’t feeding our Superheros the food they need, just like our body, they do not thrive.

Let’s start there and see how impactful little changes can be.

Potassium can be largely helpful in regulating fluid balance as it relates to the kidneys, hormones like aldosterone, and insulin.

If we have too much salt in our diet, it pushes salt in the cell- when that happens, potassium gets out of dodge and goes into the vascular system.

Every single process I am about to cover relates to potassium deficiency. This can include insulin resistance, aldosterone excess, and acidosis.

Breaking it down, low intracellular potassium leads to issues with glycogen converting to glucose.

Glucagon works to counterbalance the actions of insulin. About four to six hours after you eat, the glucose levels in your blood decrease, triggering your pancreas to produce glucagon. This hormone signals your liver and muscle cells to change the stored glycogen back into glucose.

Low levels of potassium raise levels of insulin and glucose. Especially related to diabetics or people who are struggling with their weight.

Keep in mind that potassium deficiency causes sugar cravings.

This is a result of not enough potassium to help with the storage requirements.

If there are low levels of potassium in our blood, it affects aldosterone. Aldosterone is a hormone that manages our blood volume.

When potassium is low, aldosterone raises blood pressure to compensate (a state called hyperaldosteronism) and shunts blood from our peripheral limbs to our organs.

It is a signal sent from the adrenal gland that talks to the kidneys to start adjusting the electrolytes in our blood in order to maintain normalcy (even if it ends up hurting us in the end).

We have to remember that our body will do whatever it can to survive.

So, how do we maintain normal levels of potassium so our hormones work appropriately?

Eat. Real. Food.

There seems to be a common theme in all these articles- there is no “magic pill” to solve all of our health woes.

The magic happens in the food we eat.

Foods High In Potassium

Photo by Alex Munsell on Unsplash

There are plentiful foods that have medium to high levels of potassium.

Please, please, please keep in mind that NOT everyone should be changing their diet to increase potassium.

People with kidney disease or heart disease should speak with their healthcare provider prior to changing their dietary habits.

This is important because too much potassium can cause our heart to beat irregularly or can damage our kidneys even more (since they can't filter excess potassium out it builds up and causes harm to us).

I also want to give a fair warning that one should NOT take potassium supplements without a healthcare provider closely monitoring their blood levels (for fear of hurting our heart and kidneys).

This list is not inclusive but should give you enough information to get you started on your journey.

Bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, honeydew, apricots, prunes, raisins, dates, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, pumpkins, and leafy green vegetables.

Contrary to popular belief, potatoes actually have MORE potassium per serving than a banana does.

Even more contrary to popular belief, potassium isn’t the only source of leg cramps. Most likely, it is related to a magnesium deficiency.

Keep in mind that magnesium, potassium, and sodium all work together to maintain the normal balance of electrolytes in our blood, as they are the main ions.

The average American needs 4700mg of Potassium daily according to the FDA (remember, those guys that don’t really have our best interest in mind).

Despite whatever dietary guidelines you are following, be it Keto, Paleo, Whole 30, Atkins, Vegan, Vegetarian, Pagan, etc- the premise remains the same- everyone on those diets is eating REAL foods.

That is how they are successful.

Now, there are a lot of nuances that play a role in their success. You have to have realistic ideologies and understand what each diet can do to you depending on what you are looking for.

Most athletes don’t do well with a vegan diet. It is hard to consume enough protein to maintain lean muscle mass and have enough energy expenditure to perform your sport.

Keep in mind, I did not say it is impossible, it is just more difficult.

We need to eat a species-appropriate diet that focuses on large macronutrients that are complimented by micronutrients.

We really shouldn’t have a diet that consists of all macros and no micronutrients and vice versa. Balance is important and if we think historically, our ancestors ate an animal nose to tail and complimented that diet with seasonal fruits and vegetables.

They thrived in food scarcity and we are dying in droves with food abundance.

A well-balanced diet consists of high protein consumption, moderate fats from animal sources, and minimal carbs (real carbs). Carbs are important for helping our gut microbiome and allowing the stool to pass more easily in our colon.

We are a highly complex system that works best in simplicity.

Eat real food. Be active. Sleep and reduce your stress.

If you got those things covered, you are winning the game of Life.

Be strong. Be brave.