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What Is the Purpose of Potassium in the Human Body?

author image Gail Morris
Gail Morris has been writing extensively since 1997. She completed a master's degree in nursing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and practiced in medicine for more than 20 years. Morris has published medical articles in peer-reviewed journals and now writes for various online publications and freelances for Internet marketers.
What Is the Purpose of Potassium in the Human Body?
Bananas are full of potassium. Photo Credit Dimitar Lambov/iStock/Getty Images

Potassium is an important mineral to the body and plays roles at both the cellular and electrical level. In fact, it is also considered an electrolyte because it carries a tiny electrical charge. Potassium is found in red blood cells, muscles and bones. Food sources include many fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, parsley, broccoli, tomatoes, citrus fruits, bananas, apples, avocados and raisins.

Muscle Contraction

Potassium and sodium work together to regulate the water and acid-base balance in the blood and tissues. It also works by creating a sodium-potassium pump that helps generate muscle contractions, including regulating heartbeat, according to Periodic Paralysis News Desk. Because potassium crosses the cell membrane more readily than sodium, it initiates an exchange that releases electrical energy and activates nerve impulses, causing muscle contraction.

Blood Pressure

Potassium also causes a reaction in the blood vessels, according to research published in the "American Journal of Physiology Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology." Research led by F.J. Haddy determined that infusions of potassium would cause an increase in blood flow that resulted from the dilation of the arteries and relaxation of smooth muscles. The research found that dietary supplementation with potassium could lower blood pressure. This appeared to reduce the need for anti-hypertensive medications in individuals who were "salt sensitive" hypertensive. Although further research is required, the researchers theorize that potassium supplementation could help reduce other complications, such as stroke.

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The sodium and potassium balance in the body is sensitive. According to Dr. Lawrence Wilson, medical doctor and nutritional consultant, an imbalance in this ratio can contribute to the development of seizures. This imbalance can trigger excessive tissue breakdown at the neurological level and a correction can help to produce an improvement in epileptic seizures.

Enzyme Production

There are a limited number of enzymes that require the use of potassium for production and activity, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. For instance, the use of adenosine triphosphate in the production of energy requires the presence of both sodium and potassium. Potassium is also needed for the activation of an important enzyme in carbohydrate metabolism, pyruvate kinase.

Bone Health

Your body works on a fragile acid-base balance. To maintain that acid-base balance, based on your dietary intake, your body may pull calcium from the bones, according to lead researcher Frances Tylavsky from the Department of Preventative Medicine at the University of Tennessee. This discovery led researchers to understand the importance that potassium plays in reducing the amount of calcium pulled from the bones to maintain the correct acid-base balance when the body can use potassium. The role that potassium plays is based in a complex interaction between concentrations of potassium, sodium and calcium and phosphorus within the bones and the interstitial fluid surrounding the bone.

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