Both sodium and potassium are minerals essential to regulate the body's water balance and maintain healthy bones, nerves and muscle function. The typical American diet is heavy on sodium, but doesn't provide very much potassium. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, this can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and death.
A 2011 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine finds that higher sodium and lower potassium intakes were associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), and death from all causes, regardless of blood pressure.
Potassium and Sodium Work Together
Sodium and potassium function together to regulate healthy cell signaling in the body. According to a 2011 article in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, potassium is an anion (a negatively charged ion), because having more electrons than protons makes it carry a negative charge.
Sodium is the opposite; it's known as a cation because it has more protons than electrons and carries a positive charge. A healthy level of potassium inside of the cells and sodium outside the cells, is necessary for proper cell signaling in the nervous system.
Potassium Needs Magnesium
Magnesium’s role in the balance of sodium and potassium is as an intermediary. Potassium can't cross the cell membrane on its own, and needs magnesium to move across the cell membrane.
Once the cell membrane is open, the cell can absorb all of the potassium it needs to function properly. This process of achieving sodium and potassium balance accounts for 20 to 40 percent of the resting energy your body uses, showing just how essential it is to healthy body function.
A 2018 article in the journal Openheart, states that most cases of magnesium deficiency are undiagnosed. The reasons why include chronic disease, medications, reduced magnesium content in food crops and the magnesium poor refined and processed foods. So the vast majority of people in modern societies are at risk for magnesium deficiency.
Ninety percent of the body's total magnesium is contained in the muscles and bones Magnesium deficiency can predispose people to osteopaenia, osteoporosis and bone fractures.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, experimentally induced magnesium deficiency can result in low serum potassium levels and a high retention rate for sodium that may cause muscle disorders, nausea, vomiting and even personality changes.
Magnesium-Rich Foods Are Essential
According to a 2017 article in the Huffington Post, obtaining sufficient dietary magnesium to maintain an optimal sodium and potassium balance includes eating foods like fruits, vegetables like kale and spinach, seafood and dark chocolate. These foods are a rich source of both magnesium and potassium. Magnesium supplements are another inexpensive and easy way to help make sure the body has enough of this critical mineral.
Eating more magnesium rich foods or taking a daily magnesium supplement can help maintain healthy magnesium levels and keep sodium levels optimal, while keeping muscles, bones and nerves functioning properly.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Shifting the Balance of Sodium and Potassium in Your Diet
- Linus Pauling Institute; Magnesium; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; April 2003
- Linus Pauling Institute; Potassium; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; February 2004
- Archives of Internal Medicine: Quanhe Yang, et al: (2011)
- Journal of Physical Chemistry: Differences of cations and anions: their hydration, surface adsorption, and impact on water dynamics:Yang L, et al:(2011)
- Openheart: Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis:James J DiNicolantonio:(2018)
- Huffington Post:What Foods Contain Magnesium?:Juliette Steen:(2017)