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It's certainly important to have enough potassium into your system. Potassium is important for nerve and muscle functions, can aid in reducing hypertension and treating allergies, and a deficiency of potassium can result in hypoglycemia.

Potassium is a mineral that acts as an electrolyte in the body, carrying nutrients into your cells and wastes out of them. Electrolytes dissolve in water to form positively charged ions. Because electrolytes are electrically charged, they pass easily through cell membranes, and are thus able to carry electrical messages from the nervous system to the heart and other muscles to maintain regular muscle rhythm and contraction.

A healthy potassium-to-sodium ratio helps prevent high blood pressure and significantly lessens the risk of stroke. There should be more potassium inside the cells and more sodium outside the cells to allow the body to perform the chemical reactions needed to convert carbohydrates to energy.

The ratio of sodium to potassium across the cell membrane creates something known as the membrane potential. A normal cell membrane potential is critical for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and heart function.

Abnormally low amounts of potassium in the cells can cause a condition known as hypokalemia. Hypokalemia can be caused by prolonged vomiting, the use of some diuretics, kidney disease, anorexia, bulimia, or any other condition that might cause potassium to exit the body faster than you can replenish it. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps, and intestinal paralysis, which may lead to bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain. Severe hypokalemia may result in muscular paralysis or even fatal cardiac arrhythmias.

Other reported symptoms of potassium deficiency include constipation, poor appetite, abnormally dry skin, acne, depression, diarrhea, diminished reflex function, edema, nervousness, insatiable thirst, glucose intolerance, growth impairment, high cholesterol levels, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, proteinuria (protein in the urine), respiratory distress, and salt retention.

The use of prescription drugs such as aldactone, colchicines, digitalis, ACE-inhibitors, steroids, furosemide and other diuretics, and penicillin; and the abuse of alcohol or laxatives inhibits the body’s ability to absorb potassium. If you are taking any of these medications, have an eating disorder, or are alcohol-dependent, you should speak to your doctor about getting more potassium in your diet and the possible need for potassium supplements.

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