Potassium is present in just about every cell in your body, and a proper balance of this mineral is critical for good health. Too much, or too little, potassium can be dangerous to your health, and alcohol affects your potassium levels.
Potassium in beer might help you recover, mildly, after a big sweat session, but excessive alcohol use can lead to dangerously high electrolyte levels. Understand how alcohol can affect the balance of this important mineral in your body.
The potassium dose in beer is 96 milligrams per 12-ounces, a moderate amount. Other alcohol has none. Large volumes of alcohol, such as those consumed by alcoholics, can put you into a high-potassium state by compromising kidney function, and put you at risk of serious complications.
What is Potassium?
Potassium is categorized as an electrolyte. Electrolytes are minerals that have an electric charge and help with your body's fluid balance, movement of nutrition and waste in and out of cells, maintenance of your body's proper pH levels and optimal function of the nerves, heart, brain and muscles. Potassium is just one of these important electrolytes — the others are calcium, sodium, chloride, phosphate and magnesium.
Potassium is found in many foods, according to the National Institutes of Health, including bananas, orange juice, spinach, lentils, yogurt and meats. The average adult needs between 2,600 and 3,400 milligrams per day.
Alcohol, such as rum, vodka and whiskey, contains just 1 milligram of potassium — not enough to make a notable impact on your daily intake. The amount of potassium in beer is modest, with 96 milligrams in one average 12-ounce can. Compare this to the 1,101 milligrams in a ½ cup serving of dried apricots, 644 milligrams in 1 cup of acorn squash and 496 milligrams in 1 cup of orange juice.
Potassium in Beer for Recovery
A nice cold beer is a popular post-race drink, with tents up to greet you at the finish line. You may wonder if it's a really good idea to pop a cold one after all your hard work.
The potassium in beer may not help effectively restore your levels of this mineral, according to a small study of 11 people published in Frontiers in Nutrition in October 2016. When compared to athletes who consumed a sports drink, those who consumed beer were found to have a significantly lower amount of potassium in their blood.
Read more: What Vitamins Does Beer Have?
The researchers concluded, however, that no single drink — beer, sports drink or water — offered enough nutrients to fully rehydrate athletes, even when they drank an amount equal to 100 percent of their sweat loss. A combination of fluids and salty foods may be the best way to restore hydration post-workout. More research on ultimate post-workout hydration is needed.
Too Much Potassium
Too much potassium in your blood is called hyperkalemia. Mild cases of this condition are usually easy enough to treat, but serious cases can lead to severe complications, including irregular heart beat and heart attack. Symptoms include nausea, muscle cramps, fatigue and chest pain, explains the American Kidney Fund.
People at risk of hyperkalemia are those with diabetes, congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease. Alcoholism or heavy drug use can also cause hyperkalemia. The American Heart Association explains that too much alcohol breaks down muscle fibers, releasing potassium into your blood, and raising your levels to dangerous heights.
If you have a drinking problem, seek help immediately to prevent the physical and mental health complications of your condition, including excessive potassium levels.
For those who are at risk of hyperkalemia due to kidney disease, talk to your doctor about alcohol consumption. Usually, a drink or two on occasion won't affect your potassium levels, but too much alcohol can put additional stress on compromised kidneys, explains the National Kidney Foundation. The same is true if you have diabetes or are taking certain medications.
- American Heart Association: "Hyperkalemia"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "Beer"
- Frontiers in Nutrition: "Post-Exercise Rehydration: Effect of Consumption of Beer with Varying Alcohol Content on Fluid Balance after Mild Dehydration"
- National Institutes of Health: "Potassium"
- Medline Plus: "Electrolytes and Fluid Balance"
- USDA Nutrient Database: "Alcoholic beverage"
- American Kidney Fund: "High Potassium"
- National Kidney Foundation: "Alcohol and Your Kidneys"
- Kennesaw State University; Effects of Ethyl Alcohol on Organ Function; Dr. Bill Boggan; 2003