Can a banana a day keep the doctor away? The benefits of potassium

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When you see commercials with elite athletes dramatically tearing up the basketball court or drilling long balls to center field, the ever-important question always follows: Is it in you? Well, according to experts—not as much as it should. Doctors say we need 4,700 milligrams daily, but studies show most people aren’t getting enough potassium in their diet.

Why the name may not ring a bell with most people, it’s “street name”—electrolytes—may be more familiar. Most energy drinks are designed to replenish these essential minerals. Along with potassium, the nutrients calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphate, and chloride work together to regulate important body functions. If you run low on them—look out. Low levels affect sleep, muscles, heart rhythms, joints, digestion, anxiety levels, blood pressure, and balance.

If you are looking for an effective way to feel better, here are four reasons potassium is essential for good health.

1.It reduces bone loss.

The role of potassium in bone health relates to the ability of selected potassium salts to neutralize bone-depleting metabolic acids. “These acids ‘eat away’ at bone, much like acid rain eats away at a limestone statue,” says Susan E. Brown, MD. “It is, however, is largely neutralized by potassium compounds, and to a lesser degree magnesium compounds, obtained from fruits and vegetables.” Along with fresh produce, potassium is found in bananas, seeds, and most popular spices.

2. Maintains blood pressure.

To appreciate the role of potassium, you need to understand kidney function. The tricky process of controlling blood pressure relies on the kidneys. When the body is filled with excess fluid, blood pressure increases, so the kidneys to need to filter the blood and eliminate excess fluid that is stored in the bladder. But they need potassium to help draw out extra fluid and direct it to storage. When potassium levels are low, kidneys will not function efficiently. So, by reducing salt intake and adopting a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, potassium levels will remain high, which will help the kidneys keep the blood clean and blood pressure levels healthy.

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3. Reduces risk of kidney stones

Much of the focus on dietary needs for seniors revolves around fats and salt intake. But it’s also important that potassium levels are normal. “Recognizing that the physical changes associated with aging can affect kidney function and the absorption of nutrients, we monitor our menus to be sure we are providing nutrients like potassium, which is necessary to maintain blood pressure, reduce sodium sensitivity, and reduce the risk of things like kidney stones,” said Debra Koenig, RN., LNHA., executive director at Fort Dodge Health & Rehabilitation. Great sources of potassium include kiwi, watermelon, pineapple, celery, and most citrus fruits.

4. Muscle function

One of the quickest ways to discover a low potassium level (called hypokalemia) is muscle function. Since potassium helps muscle contraction, low levels result in muscle cramps, aches, spasms and weakness. “Potassium also helps with electrical functions within your body by helping to synthesize proteins and support electrical activity in your heart to keep it beating,” says Diana Rodriguez. “Your body also needs potassium to help build muscles and promote healthy growth.”   

Let’s face it. Swigging on an energy drink or eating a bunch of bananas won’t help us leap tall buildings in a single bound, but when you consider the importance of maintaining healthy potassium levels and the difference it can make in body functions—it couldn’t hurt.

 

This article was originally published by the Daily Herald. 

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