Potassium is the most abundant electrolyte found in the body. Electrolytes are electrically charged ions that the body needs to function properly. Potassium is present in all cells in the body. The 2004 guidelines of the Institute of Medicine specify a recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 4.7 grams of potassium for adults. Fruits and vegetables are dietary sources of potassium. Salt substitutes also contain high levels of potassium.
Hypokalemia (low levels of potassium in the blood serum) may cause muscle cramps and pain, weakness, and cardiovascular abnormalities. Hypokalemia may be caused by decreased potassium intake, vomiting, burns, dialysis, sweating, various medications or supplements, and low levels of magnesium. Potassium supplementation is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of hypokalemia.
Hyperkalemia (too much potassium in the blood serum) may cause potentially severe problems to the brain and the neural and cardiovascular systems. Hyperkalemia may be caused by increased potassium intake, decreased potassium excretion, or redistribution of potassium caused by medications or supplements.
There is evidence from human studies that potassium is an effective treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure). There is limited or conflicting evidence for the use of potassium in cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis prevention, heart protection during surgery, or the treatment of alcohol withdrawal, critical illness, dehydration in elderly patients, dentin (teeth) hypersensitivity, diarrhea, edema (swelling), kidney stones, kwashiorkor (malnutrition), myocardial infarction (heart attack), pre-eclampsia (hypertension and other problems during pregnancy), thallium poisoning, rheumatoid arthritis, and stroke. Large-scale, high-quality human trials are needed in these areas.
The accompanying Monograph available for download includes information on scientific evidence, safety and other background information. For more, click Download.