As some of you who follow my blog know, I specialize in migraines–though this blog is primarily a “resistance movement” blog of sorts. I usually grab a product or a disease or a status and mock what the establishment recommends. This article is slightly different in that I hope to also inform.
What Is Potassium?
Potassium is important in our diet–it is a mineral that is necessary in our electrolyte. If we look at the USDA recommendations for potassium, the RDA is age dependent, but for the average age-group of my readers, it is 3400 mg a day. How much is 3400 mg potassium? Hmmmmm great question. According to the USDA database, 100 gr (3.5 oz) of a California avocado has 507 mg potassium, 100 gr Florida avocado sports only 351 mg potassium, 100 gr wild Atlantic salmon has 490 gr potassium, 100 gr rib eye steak has 305 gr, 100 gr baked russet potato with skin has 550 gr, and a glass (8 oz) of whole milk has 322 mg potassium. This should give you a good idea of what it takes to incorporate a high potassium diet into your life.
Of course, food sources are not the only means by which you can take potassium. There are potassium supplements and foods that are enriched with added potassium–that is also considered as supplements.
Where Do The Guidelines Come From?
How do we know we need 3400 mg potassium? The same way we know that we need 2300 mg sodium maximum–meaning we have no idea. Just as there has never ever been any research evaluating how much sodium we need, neither was any research about potassium. The guidelines about these nutrients are not any different from the guidelines on other nutrients: we have no idea.
With permission by one of my migraineurs I copy-paste some of his comments so you can see the problem:
“I was always following a weightlifting style carb diet. I was also trying to follow the potassium recommendations of 4700 mg per day. So what I didn’t consume in food, I was getting in potassium supplements. I figured if they were out there being recommended, then how dangerous could they be?”
Aha! A weightlifting standard of sorts. Where does that come from? No idea. How dangerous could potassium be? Very dangerous. It is used to stop the heart in executions of death-row inmates! Too much potassium, referred to as hyperkalamia, can cause serious heart problems even if one is not getting an execution dose. Since potassium is an electrolyte that needs to be in balance with sodium chloride for proper cellular electrical activity, hyperkalamia can dysregulate electrolytes, causing also migraines.
The main function of the supplemented potassium is to reduce blood pressure. Unlike potassium that is consumed in food, and which becomes part of electrolyte, potassium that is supplemented absorb at once in large quantity and “hits the heart”. It is used for those with hypertension because it reduces blood volume, thereby reducing blood pressure.
Reducing blood volume means that potassium taken in supplemental form does not participate in the enhancement of the electrolytes. It behaves similarly to a diuretic in that it reduces fluids–in this case blood volume. Therefore, if you want to enhance your potassium in your electrolyte, taking potassium supplement will not get you there. Potassium supplements land you in the exact opposite and reduce your electrolyte rather than increase potassium in your electrolyte.
Should You Ever Supplement Potassium?
Not unless your doctor told you to supplement it in order to reduce your blood pressure. I would argue that even then, supplementing potassium backfires. Reducing blood volume reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Why is that any good?
It is counter-intuitive to reduce the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity in order to reduce blood pressure, since one of the reasons for the increased blood pressure is to increase oxygen delivery to organs. Being dehydrated can cause hypertension, since there is less blood in your veins to carry oxygen. Therefore, increasing the speed with which your blood gets fresh oxygen from passing through the lungs is achieved by increased blood pressure. So the more potassium supplements you take, the less your blood volume, and the higher speed the blood must go… makes little sense to me.
Instead of reducing blood volume, I would attack the underlying cause of the hypertension. Hypertension is caused by many things, one of them is bad nutrition, another is lack of physical activity. The maintenance of a proper ratio between potassium and sodium is a more reliable measure of heart health and more supportive of proper health-control (a.k.a. blood pressure control in this article). Note though that even the highest levels of potassium consumption only decreases systolic blood pressure by 3.36 mmHg maximum–meaning if you have 140 mmHg (high systolic pressure) and you increase potassium, your reduction ends up with max 3.36 mmHg. This is quite minimal. If your systolic blood pressure was 140 mmHg and it reduced to 136.64 mmHg as a result of the maximum increased potassium, you still have high blood pressure.
It is best if you eat right: stop eating sweeteners and foods that are sweetened, junk foods, vegetable and seed oils, low-fat stuff, processed foods, and instead, start eating whole foods with real nutrition. Also, drink up!! Water that is! And, I know you hate this but yeah: exercise! Keep active. Chances are your blood pressure will drop to be normal without any medicines or potassium supplementation.
Comments are welcome, as always, and are moderated for appropriateness.