Diet is by far the best source of potassium. Many of the foods rich in potassium also contain an array of nutrients essential to your health. Beyond diet, potassium supplements are available, but you must use them only when directed to do so by a doctor. Your daily multivitamin may contain small, safe amounts of potassium, but large doses of supplemental potassium can cause dangerous side effects, so don't self-prescribe this essential mineral.
Types of Supplements
For most people, the safest form of potassium supplement is in a multivitamin. Multivitamins contain no more than 99 mg potassium, a tiny fraction of the Recommended Daily Allowance for this mineral, notes the Linus Pauling Institute. While pharmacological preparations often come in the form of potassium chloride, most multivitamins contain potassium citrate, which is potassium salt from citric acid. Besides potassium citrate and chloride, you can also find this mineral in the form of potassium aspartate, potassium bicarbonate, potassium gluconate and potassium orotate.
The best form of potassium for absorption isn't really relevant. Dr. Elson Haas, author of "Staying Healthy with Nutrition," explains that potassium is generally well absorbed in your small intestine. In fact, roughly 90 percent of ingested potassium is absorbed during the process of digestion. You needn't select a particular form of this mineral to ensure absorption and assimilation. That being said, your doctor will tell you which form is best suited to your needs.
The recommended dietary intake of potassium is set at 2,000 mg per day, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Your diet likely fulfills this need. Most meat, such as beef, pork, chicken and turkey, contain potassium. It’s also found in cod, flounder, salmon and sardines. You also get potassium from tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, peas, lima beans, bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, apricots and nuts. Even milk, yogurt and peanut butter are rich in potassium, so examine your diet to determine how much potassium you're taking in on a daily basis.
A deficiency is rarely caused by a lack of potassium in your diet. You’re far more likely to develop hypokalemia — or low potassium — from prolonged bouts of diarrhea or vomiting as well as eating disorders, kidney failure, excessive sweating and the use of laxatives or diuretics. Symptoms of hypokalemia don't usually manifest until serum potassium drops well below the recommended level, which is 3.6 to 4.8 mEq/L. When this occurs, a supplement won’t likely help, and a medical professional must administer it intravenously.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, potassium supplements should only be taken under the supervision of a doctor. Supplemental potassium can cause unpleasant side effects such as nausea, diarrhea and stomach irritation. Taking too much can cause a dangerous condition called hyperkalemia, which may lead to abnormal heart rhythms, slowed heartbeat and muscle weakness.