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Can Taking Potassium Supplements Be Dangerous?

author image Sara Ipatenco
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.
Can Taking Potassium Supplements Be Dangerous?
Close-up of a senior man's hands. Photo Credit Marilyn Barbone/Hemera/Getty Images

Your body needs potassium to support the proper function of your heart, muscles, skeleton and digestive system. Too much potassium, however, can be just as bad as not enough potassium. If you're worried that you don't get enough potassium in your diet, talk to your doctor before adding potassium supplements to your daily routine.

Too Much of a Good Thing

While taking potassium supplements can be useful in instances of low potassium, called hypokalemia, getting too much potassium can be harmful. Elevated potassium levels in the blood, which can result from taking too many supplements, is called hyperkalemia. Too much potassium can cause tingling in your hands and feet, temporary paralysis and weakness. High levels of potassium can also cause chest pain, lightheadedness, confusion, trouble breathing and seizures, according to Drugs.com. An abnormal heartbeat is also possible with too much potassium, and this can lead to cardiac arrest, notes the Linus Pauling Institute notes.

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How Much Do You Need?

Adults need 4,700 milligrams of potassium as part of their daily diet. Most people who eat a healthy and well-balanced diet get all of the potassium they need without having to take supplements. Not getting enough potassium in your diet doesn't necessarily mean that you'll develop hypokalemia, but it can raise your risk of certain health problems such as high blood pressure, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.

Upper Limits

When you exceed your body's need for potassium, your kidneys can have a difficult time excreting the excess from our body. People who aren't used to taking large amounts of potassium can experience the dangerous side effects with amounts greater than 18 grams, which is equal to 18,000 milligrams. Over-the-counter potassium supplements don't contain more than 99 milligrams of potassium, but prescription supplements can contain much more. There is no established upper limit, or UL, for potassium from dietary intake because negative effects haven't been reported in healthy people, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.

Are Supplements Even Necessary?

When health problems cause low potassium, taking potassium supplements isn't dangerous as long as you follow your doctor's dosing instructions. If you have chronic low potassium, taking supplements is better than the potential dangers of not having enough of this essential mineral. Temporary health problems, such as kidney stones, vomiting and diarrhea, can be treated with potassium supplements, as well. Renal system disorders might also be treated with potassium supplements.

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