Potassium helps lower blood pressure, which lowers your risk of stroke and protects your heart. Potassium lowers blood pressure in two ways: 1) by acting as a vasodilator, keeping arteries flexible so blood can flow easily; and 2) by helping to rid the body of excess sodium and the associated fluid retention that contributes to increased blood pressure.
Potassium helps improve brain function. Lower blood pressure also allows more oxygen to reach the brain, which stimulates neural activity and increases cognitive function. And potassium channels are required to maintain electrical conductivity in the brain, crucial for brain function.
Potassium is integral in protein synthesis and ensures proper growth and regeneration of muscle tissue. Potassium stimulates neural connectivity between muscles and the brain, which signals contraction and relaxation of muscles, and is important for normal heart, digestive, and muscular function, including exercise and muscle training.
By neutralizing acidity in the body, potassium prevents the body from leaching calcium from bones to neutralize excess acid. In this way, potassium contributes to higher mineral (calcium) density in bones.
Potassium is needed to convert glycogen, the form of blood sugar stored in the liver, back into glucose for metabolic energy. Potassium is needed to extract energy from nutrients and assists in the metabolic processing of nutrients.
As an electrolyte, potassium helps maintain optimal fluid balance, which keeps our organs functioning properly. Electrolytes transmit electrical charges from the brain and nervous system throughout the body to keep everything functioning faster and more efficiently. As an electrolyte, potassium enhances efficiency of nerve reflexes that transmit messages throughout the body; helps with muscle contraction.
Potassium has other functions that include stimulating cell growth and helping in cell repair, regulating cortisol and adrenaline, the body’s stress hormones, to help control stress and anxiety, and helping the kidneys to excrete waste, reducing the risk of kidney stones.
The Recommended Daily Amount of potassium is 4,700 milligrams (mg). Too little or too much potassium can cause problems. Potassium deficiency can cause muscle cramps (hypokalemia), or more seriously can lead to paralysis of cardiac muscles or epilepsy.
Excess potassium can be a problem if you have kidney issues that prevent you from processing potassium properly because potassium can reach high levels and cause heart disease, muscle paralysis, difficulty breathing, tingling in the hands and feet, heart arrhythmia, and nausea. Furthermore, medications can affect your potassium levels. If you are taking medication or have any health concerns, check with your doctor or pharmacist before making changes.
The best way to get your potassium is from whole foods. Some of the richest plant-based sources of potassium include yams, nuts (peanuts, raw almonds, cashews, and walnuts), avocados, leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard, and mustard greens), beans (pinto, kidney, and black beans), chickpeas, oats, russet potatoes, lentils, bananas, butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, persimmons, cantaloupe and honeydew melon, celery, coconut water, tomatoes, eggplant, and citrus fruits.