A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that only 2 percent of American adults meet the recommended dietary intake of potassium through their daily diet.
Potassium has a crucial role in numerous body functions, ranging from contraction and relaxation of muscles to transfer of messages in the nervous system, and therefore, it is important for us to maintain optimum levels of the same in the body. The optimum levels in this case are in the range of 3.6 to 4.8 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). A fall in the same results in hypokalemia―a medical condition typically characterized by deficiency of potassium in the body.
If potassium levels are in the range of 3.0 to 3.6 mEq/L, it is known as 'mild hypokalemia', and if they are lower than 3.0 mEq/L, it is known as 'severe hypokalemia'. If blood potassium levels fall below 2.5 mEq/L, it can cause life-threatening complications with fatal consequences. A person suffering from potassium deficiency―regardless of whether it is mild or severe―should be promptly subjected to medical attention to avoid unnecessary complications.
How is Potassium Deficiency (Hypokalemia) Treated?
Basically, the treatment of potassium deficiency will revolve around the treatment of the underlying cause of this condition. Most of the causes of the same are attributed to loss of potassium through urine or the digestive tract as a result of some underlying health problem. Other causes of the same include diarrhea, vomiting, eating disorders, overuse of laxatives and diuretics, and even something as serious as chronic kidney failure at times. Yet another surprisingly common cause of low potassium in the body is lack of potassium-rich foods in the diet.
The treatment options generally range from increased potassium intake to intravenous potassium supplements, depending on―like we said earlier―the underlying cause. The doctor will run some tests to diagnose the condition and recommend the suitable treatment option. If potassium loss is caused as a result of diarrhea or vomiting, then medication for the treatment of these conditions will be prescribed. In contrast, if the condition is triggered by prescribed medication, like diuretics or laxatives, the interfering medication will be replaced with some other medication.
If the person is suffering from mild hypokalemia, wherein the level of potassium in the blood is higher than 3.0 mEq/L but less than the required 3.6 mEq/L, the doctor may prescribe oral potassium chloride supplements. On the other hand, if the person is suffering from severe hypokalemia, wherein the level of potassium is less than 3.0 mEq/L, the doctor will recommend intravenous (IV) supplementation to initiate quick recovery. In case of intravenous supplementation, the condition of the patient will be monitored in order to avoid any complications.
Natural Ways of Dealing With Potassium Deficiency
Other than prescribed medication, foods high in potassium, like bananas, oranges, green leafy vegetables, chicken, etc., also help in treating potassium deficiency. You also need to keep your body hydrated at all the times. Experts recommend against drinking copious amount of plain water, as it will flush out all the minerals from the body. A better bet is to go with electrolyte. This is especially effective when it comes to potassium deficiency due to extensive sweating. If the person has dangerously low levels of potassium, then it's better to consult a doctor for further diagnosis.
While treatment is indeed possible, it is better to prevent the condition in the first place, and the simplest way to do so, is to add potassium-rich fruits and vegetables to your daily diet. Experts recommend a daily potassium intake of around 4700 mg or 4.7 gram per day (for adults.) One should promptly consult a doctor if hypokalemia symptoms, like muscle weakness, fatigue, anxiety, confusion, memory loss, etc., start surfacing. Like we said in the beginning, hypokalemia is a serious condition, and therefore, should not be taken lightly.