Potassium acts like an electrolyte by balancing fluid in your body, allowing electricity to pass through. You need potassium for normal heart rhythm, muscle contraction and several other everyday functions. Having a well-rounded, balanced diet that includes a variety of foods should provide all of the potassium you need, but sometimes your diet may fall short, requiring a supplement. If you think you need a potassium supplement, talk with your physician ahead of time to avoid any adverse, harmful effects on your health.
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Function of Potassium
Most potassium in your body sits in the fluid inside of cells, but it needs sodium, another electrolyte, to balance the fluid. Sodium sits primarily in the fluid outside cells and crosses cell membranes, along with potassium, as needed. While you need potassium for skeletal movement and muscle contractions, too much or too little can cause a whirlwind of problems, including tingling in your extremities, muscle weakness and muscle paralysis.
As a healthy adult, you need 4.7 g, or 4,700 mg, of potassium daily. If you are lactating, you may need as much as 5.1 g, or 5,100 mg, explains Medline Plus. Potassium in supplements comes in a variety of forms, including potassium chloride, citrate, gluconate, bicarbonate, aspartate and orotate. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, potassium in daily multivitamins is limited to 99 mg per serving, since adding any more would make the supplement too big to swallow and may increase your risk of toxicity. Because ingesting too much potassium from supplements can throw your entire fluid balance out of whack, these types of supplements should only be taken under direct supervision of your physician.
Potassium in Supplements
The amount of potassium in the supplements you take each day vary based on which type you take. Some potassium supplements are in milliequivalents (mEq) instead of milligrams. For example, 1 mEq of potassium is equal to 39 mg, meaning you need 120.5 mEq daily when converted from milligrams. If you take potassium bicarbonate tablets that dissolve into a solution, take 25 to 50 mEq dissolved into water once or twice per day.
In the form of bicarbonate or chloride granules, dissolve 20 mEq in water one or two times per day, says the Mayo Clinic. Your supplements may be in a gluconate or chloride liquid form intended for dilution. In this case, dilute 20 mEq into 2 tbsp. or more of water or juice. Drink this solution two to four times per day. Since potassium supplements come in a variety of forms, read the label and follow instructions carefully.