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Monday, April 4, 2011

Tired, Fatigued? You may be Low on Potassium

Potassium is a mineral element needed by all plants and animals to live and thrive.  It is essential for the normal function of all tissues and cells in the body.  The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Sciences has set Adequate Intake of potassium at 4.7 grams per day for most adults. Potassium is contained in all foods, particularly in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Animal sources, such as fish and meat, also contain potassium, but the plant-based material is easier to absorb, and too much protein isn’t part of any healthy diet.  In fact, a carnivorous diet will be detrimental to your health, causing a rise in acid levels and depleting potassium levels. You will know that you are deficient in potassium if you find yourself experiencing an overall weakness and seem to be constantly fatigued. You're also likely to have trouble concentrating on your daily tasks, and may have difficulty with muscular coordination. Potassium deficiency can lead to high blood pressure problems, hypertension, strokes, and heart irregularities, and maybe even cancer. So, if you are lacking energy or suspect something of the sort, please see your doctor.


Some alternative medical practitioners maintain that low levels of potassium in the body may be linked to cancer.  The theory is that a diet high in sodium and low in potassium promotes tumor growth by changing the normal pH and water balance in human cells.  Further, in the 1930s, Max Gerson began developing a controversial dietary treatment for cancer known as the Gerson Diet Therapy.  The cornerstone of his diet was the use of potassium supplements and low sodium intake. He claimed the diet could restore proper balance of salt and water within human cells and help stop tumor growth. While this may be a valid theory, I don’t recommend potassium supplements unless directed by your doctor.   An excess of potassium is equally likely to spell trouble, so unless your doctor believes supplements are necessary, you would be better off just reaching for another cantaloupe slice, another banana, a handful more of strawberries, and adding a pinch of turmeric to many of your cooked meals.
Some studies have found that in a number of countries where there are high-potassium diets, cancer rates are lower. In areas where there are low-potassium diets, these studies showed the cancer rates are higher. These types of studies, however, cannot prove a direct connection, because there are other factors involved. The main sources of potassium in foods are fruits and vegetables. This may mean that people with a diet high in potassium are at lower risk for cancer because of other compounds in these foods. Since fruits and vegetables also contain vitamins, phytochemicals, and other antioxidants, it may be that compounds besides potassium account for their helpful effects. In cases such as this, I don’t require data-based evidence; sometimes you just have to go with common sense.  A diet high in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains is a common sense diet for all.

Elyn Jacobs

Resources for information and food sources of Potassium:

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