As an essential mineral, potassium helps your body's many processes run smoothly. Potassium allows your muscles to function properly so that you can walk, run and otherwise go about your day. Without enough potassium -- a condition called hypokalemia -- cells throughout your body suffer. In particular, your muscles become week and may cramp painfully. Address any concerns about your potassium levels and related muscle pain to your doctor before taking any kind of supplement.
Importance of Potassium
Potassium functions as an electrolyte to help cells work properly, explains MedlinePlus. It also helps with electrical functions within your body by helping to synthesize proteins and support electrical activity in your heart to keep it beating. Your body also needs potassium to help build muscles and promote healthy growth. Severely low potassium can threaten your life.
Muscle Pain and Cramps
Because potassium promotes muscle function and growth, symptoms of hypokalemia -- low potassium levels -- can include muscle pain, cramping, fatigue and general weakness of the muscles. MedlinePlus reports, additional symptoms may occur, such as muscle spasm and paralysis. Hypokalemia can also affect your heart muscle and cause abnormal heart rhythms. See your doctor if you suspect you have any symptoms of hypokalemia.
Levels of Potassium
The Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 4.7 milligrams of potassium for males and females ages 14 to 70+. However, insufficient dietary potassium intake usually does not cause hypokalemia. Causes of hypokalemia include diarrhea, taking diuretics to increase urination, magnesium deficiency, vomiting, sweating and eating excessive amounts of licorice, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Getting Enough Potassium
To get your recommended daily amount of potassium, make sure you include potassium-rich foods in your regular menu. Sources of potassium include dairy products, all meats and some fish, such as cod, flounder and salmon. Adding a variety of veggies to your diet -- particularly sweet potatoes, broccoli, peas and squash -- also ensures plenty of dietary potassium. Nuts, dairy products, bananas and other fruits also provide good sources of potassium.
Is This an Emergency?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Hypokalemia
- MedlinePlus: Potassium in Diet
- MedlinePlus: Hypokalemia
- Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute: Potassium
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Elements
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Potassium