Types of Potassium Supplements

Isolated blackboard with periodic table, Potassium
Potassium supplements come in several forms (Image: michaklootwijk/iStock/Getty Images)

Potassium levels in the body must be carefully managed to avoid complications that arise with high or low levels. Potassium supplements may be appropriate if your body is deficient in this nutrient. Several different types of potassium supplements are available. The cause of potassium deficiency determines what type of potassium supplement is the best choice.

Indications for Potassium Supplement Use

Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that is essential to the function of the heart, muscles, nerves, kidney and digestive system and is stored primarily within the cells of the body. Low potassium levels, known as hypokalemia, may be caused by conditions of malabsorption, alcoholism, diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating and use of certain medications known as loop diuretics. Hypokalemia should be carefully monitored, and supplements should only be initiated under the supervision of a doctor. Potassium supplements may not be appropriate for older adults, people with declined kidney function and people taking certain medications.

Choosing the Appropriate Supplement

Your doctor will recommend or prescribe the type of supplement that is appropriate for the cause of potassium deficiency. Potassium salts include potassium chloride, phosphate, bicarbonate, gluconate, citrate, aspartate and orotate. Potassium chloride is effective in treating most causes of potassium deficiency. Most potassium from food is bound to phosphate, so increased potassium intake will not help to correct potassium deficiency that is related to chloride deficiency. Potassium chloride may be the best option for hypokalemia from use of diuretics or from vomiting, or from the use of alkalizing salts such as gluconate, bicarbonate or citrate, which could lead to low chloride levels. Potassium bicarbonate may be the best option if low potassium occurs alongside metabolic acidosis.

Ways to Use Potassium Supplements

Potassium supplements come in many different forms including tablets, capsules, powders, liquids and granules. Some forms are made for quick absorption and some forms are intended for slower absorption. Extended release capsules and tablets should be swallowed whole and should not be chewed. Powders, liquids, granules and effervescent tablets are typically dissolved in water. All forms of potassium supplement should be taken with adequate fluid to avoid stomach irritation. Potassium supplements should be used only as directed on the label and in the dose prescribed by a doctor.

How Much Do You Need

According to the Food and Nutrition board, adults need 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily. The amount of potassium needed from a supplement should take into account the level of deficiency and the amount of potassium consumed in the diet. Fruits and vegetables are the richest sources of potassium. The amount of supplement needed depends on the strength of the supplement. Follow instructions from your doctor and the supplement label to determine how much to take. Oral doses of more than 18 grams may cause severe reactions due to high potassium levels, known as hyperkalemia.

Reactions to Potassium Supplements

In some situations, people may have adverse reactions to potassium supplements. Usually these reactions involve gastrointestinal distress such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and in some cases intestinal ulcers. The most severe adverse reaction to potassium supplements is hyperkalemia, which is characterized by tingling in the hands and feet, abnormal heart rhythm, muscle weakness and in some cases cardiac arrest.

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