International Year of the Periodic Table: Pota…

sci:

2019 has been declared by UNESCO as the Year of the Periodic Table. To celebrate, we are releasing a series of blogs about our favourite elements and their importance to the chemical industry. Today’s blog is about the importance of potassium in human health.

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Why is potassium biologically important?

Potassium plays an essential role to health, being the third
most important mineral in the body. The human body requires at least 1000mg of potassium a day in order to support key bodily processes. 

Potassium
regulates fluid balance in the body, controls the electrical activity of the
heart, muscles, and helps in activating nerve impulses throughout the nervous
system. 

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According to an article from Medical News Today Knowledge
Center, the possible health benefits to a regular diet intake of potassium
include maintaining
the balance of acids and bases in the body, supporting
blood pressure, improving
cardiovascular health, and helping
with bone and muscle strength.

These powerful health benefits are linked to a potassium rich diet. Potassium is present in all fruits, vegetables, meat and
fish.

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Receptors on a cell membrane.


Can it go wrong?

The body maintains the potassium level in the blood. If the
potassium level is too high in the body (hyperkalemia) or if it is too low
(hypokalemia) then this can cause serious health consequences, including an
abnormal heart rhythm or even a cardiac arrest. 

Fortunately, cells in the body store a large
reservoir of potassium which can be released to maintain a constant level of
potassium in blood.

What is hyperkalemia? Video: Osmosis

Potassium deficiency leads to fatigue, weakness and
constipation. Within muscle cells, potassium would normally send signals from
the brain that stimulate contractions. However, if potassium levels steep too
low, the brain is not able to relay these signals from the brain to the
muscles, the results end in more prolonged contractions which includes muscle
cramping.

As potassium is an essential mineral carrying out wide
ranging roles in the body, the low intakes can lead to an increase in illness.
The FDA has made a health claim, stating that ‘diets containing foods that are
a good source of potassium and that are low in sodium may reduce the risk of
high blood pressure and stroke.’

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This suggests that consuming more
potassium might reduce the risks of high blood pressure and the possibility of
strokes. However, more research on dietary and supplemental potassium is
required before drawing towards a set conclusion.


Tiffany Hionas is a Digital Media Intern at SCI. You can find more of her work here. 

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