How Potassium Can Help You Lose Weight

by Rakib Sarwar, RPh
Published on November 27, 2019 and last updated for accuracy on December 5, 2019

Have you ever noticed that nutrition facts and tables for all kinds of foods and meals always state potassium and sodium levels? Did you ever wonder why these two minerals are so important and how do they affect our body?

Potassium is extremely important for a number of different bodily functions and, guess what, there is something called potassium weight loss mechanism! Stay with us and learn how you can benefit from this valuable mineral during your weight loss process.

What is potassium?

Potassium is one of the minerals that are essential for the proper functioning of our body (1). Along with sodium, magnesium, and chloride, it is one of the most important electrolytes. Electrolytes are chemical compounds that contain a small electrical charge or potential. They are essential for the work of muscles, including heart, as well as other bodily functions, such as blood pressure regulation (1).

Therefore, potassium is one of the essential macro elements that significantly affect the functioning of our heart muscle, as well as the functioning of the entire muscular and nervous system.

The blood level of potassium should be constant, and it is regulated by the so-called “bark” of the adrenal gland, i.e. adrenal cortex (1).

Where do we get potassium from?

We intake it mainly through eating vegetables. Due to the fact that it is more or less processed, industrial food is very poor in potassium. That’s why many people today suffer from a lighter or more serious condition caused by a deficiency of this mineral.

Its presence in our organism is reinforced and promoted by another important mineral – magnesium, while the loss of potassium from our body is accelerated by consumption of fast-food rich in salt, alcohol, coffee, and sugar intake, as well as various diuretics.

Health benefits of potassium

The basic task of potassium is to regulate body fluids and blood pressure (1). Together with sodium, it contributes to the balance of pH in our blood, as well as in the tissues. Also, it controls the electrical activity of the heart and other muscles.

Potassium is very important for cellular biochemical processes and metabolism. Most importantly, it is involved in the process of conversion of glucose to glycogen stored in the liver as a stock of energy.

In general, potassium reduces the risk of many diseases. As it contributes to lowering blood pressure, it reduces the risk of getting a stroke, slows down the loss of muscle mass and loss of bone density, and reduces the risk of forming kidney stones (1).

Let’s take a look at the key health benefits of potassium in detail.

1. It lowers blood pressure and keeps blood vessels healthy

Did you know that your blood vessels relax when your body is well-fed with potassium? This is good for your whole cardiovascular system. The intake of potassium also contributes to better blood flow and reduces the risk of coronary stenosis (2).

Additionally, if your body has enough potassium, the risk of heart ischemia is reduced by almost 50%. This is amazing, eye-opening information that can save thousands of lives through a very simple step – proper diet. An insufficient intake of potassium in combination with an excessively high intake of sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which is the major risk factor for stroke and heart disease.

It is therefore extremely important to enrich your diet and to always find a place for various kinds of vegetables on your plate. The key is to increase the intake of food rich in potassium and reduce the food containing sodium.

2. It is important for muscles and bones

Potassium-rich foods contribute to good and healthy metabolism, which is very important for healthy bones and muscles.

Scientists have found that people who take enough potassium manage to maintain healthy bone density longer than those who don’t.

Potassium also helps increase a healthy calcium build-up in the bones, thanks to which they become stronger and more durable.

When this positively charged mineral comes out of the human cell, it changes the cell membrane charge by allowing the nerve impulse to travel, which is necessary for contraction and relaxation of the muscles as well as for healthy reflexes.

3. It improves brain function and prevents stroke

Potassium maintains the electrical conductivity of the brain, stimulates neuron activity and improves cognitive functions.

It also promotes better oxygen flow to the brain and can therefore indirectly prevent stroke (2).
What should you do to improve your brain function? Eat bananas! They contain an impressive amount of potassium and are also referred to as “brain food”.

4. Reduces anxiety and stress

Potassium is especially useful for people suffering from excessive anxiety and stress. It is known that potassium helps regulate cortisol and adrenaline levels. These are two hormones that can negatively affect different systems in our body if their levels increase.

5. Contributes to the electrolyte balance

Potassium maintains the optimal balance of fluids in your body, including electrolytes itself (2).
Different cells require different levels of substances in the cellular liquid, and in their balance can be maintained through proper intake of potassium.

After an increased physical activity or greater efforts that lead to losing the liquid, it is advised to eat potassium-rich foods to bring these levels back to normal.

6. Promotes metabolism and kidney function

As we have already said, potassium supports metabolic processes associated with fat and carbohydrates.

It contributes to the body’s energy supply you get from the food. It also helps in protein synthesis, tissue regeneration, and cell renewal.

It also acts as an incentive for kidneys to extract waste substances from the body. However, you should be careful not to overdose with potassium intake as it can stimulate the body to increase calcium absorption, which contributes to calcification and ultimately the formation of kidney stones.

7. Adjusts the blood sugar level

Reduced intake of potassium causes a drop of blood sugar, manifested by sweating, weakness, and confusion.

On the other hand, increased potassium intake is immediately providing relief and returns blood sugar to a normal level (2).

How can potassium help to lose weight?

Potassium is excellent for weight loss because it helps your muscles stay healthy and strong (3). In addition, it prevents water retention in your body.

Moreover, potassium weight loss implies helping your cells use glucose to generate energy. This is very important in the metabolism of glucose, regulating sugar levels, and, finally, weight regulation and weight loss.

We can think of potassium as a kind of a “middle man” that is very reliable in its numerous weight-loss functions. One of the key ways in which it regulates body weight is boosting one’s metabolism.

Namely, it acts as an agent responsible for providing enough energy for different daily activities.

How does this work?

Potassium helps our body get the best from magnesium, iron, and calcium, which are minerals known for boosting our metabolism.

What does this mean in reality?

Those of you who are coping with low levels of iron always suffer from low metabolisms as well. However, potassium plays a more important role than iron in this case. As potassium levels dictate iron progression, use, and metabolism, it is easy to conclude that potassium is the key shackle in the metabolism chain.

Once you boost your potassium levels, you will increase and stabilize your iron levels as well, and you will help your body use it in the best possible way. This will immediately positively affect your energy levels and the ways your body uses it, as well as your metabolism.

Moreover, as we have already mentioned, potassium helps build muscles. In combination with magnesium, it regulates muscle contractions and boosts their growth. Having stronger, healthier, and bigger muscles imply that you will be able to burn more calories during your training. You will also increase your stamina and be able to perform more demanding exercises.

Let’s talk about the third key role potassium plays in weight loss. We want to place a special emphasis on preventing water and fluid retention in your body. We have already said that potassium is an electrolyte and that it works together with sodium in order to regulate the flow of the fluid around the cells (3). Its key role is actually preventing long retention of fluids. This means that potassium directly affects fluid metabolism and helps you get rid of the excess water. How does this make a difference? If you consider that you might be holding up to 5 pounds of excess fluid in your body right now, you will quickly understand the importance of proper intake of potassium.

The best way to take potassium

As we have already mentioned, this mineral is mostly found in natural unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables. The daily potassium requirement for an adult is 4,700 mg (4).

Since most fruits and vegetables are, at the same time, poor in sodium, it is especially beneficial to people suffering from hypertension or high blood pressure.

The best source of potassium is green leafy vegetables, organically grown cabbage, beans, tomatoes, dates and apple juice (4).

Foods rich in potassium include spinach, pumpkin, beans, brussels sprouts, melon, lentil, potato, tomato, bananas, avocado, raisins, apricots, yogurt, etc.

In addition, citruses, apples, pears, peppers, carrots, and nuts (almonds) are also rich in potassium. It is also found in whole grain and dairy products (4).

If you eat potatoes, you should consume them in the roasted version rather than the cooked one, because it contains almost two times more potassium.

Symptoms of potassium deficiency

People who do not eat fruits and vegetables and are keen on eating industrial, processed foods rich in sodium are exposed to the risk of potassium deficiency. Also, the cause of excessive loss of potassium can be vomiting or diarrhea (4).

Lack of potassium in the body is called hypokalemia and this condition, if not treated, can endanger your health, especially the muscular and nervous system. The concentration of potassium in blood that is less than 3.8 mEq per liter of blood is considered to be hypokalemic. It can also occur due to an abnormal shift of potassium into the cells. In rare cases, low blood potassium levels are caused by reduced intake of potassium, but mainly due to excessive loss through kidneys or intestines.

In normally functioning, healthy kidneys, potassium is maintained (4). On the other hand, if the kidneys do not function normally, a reduction in the level of potassium is most likely to occur. In addition, too much potassium can be lost through vomiting, diarrhea, prolonged use of laxative medicines or polyps and colon problems.

Potassium can also be lost through the urine due to several reasons:

  • Use of some types of diuretics that cause overexpression of sodium
  • Cushing’s syndrome where adrenal glands produce excessive amounts of corticosteroid hormones
  • chewing some kinds of tobacco
  • Liddle syndrome, Bartter’s syndrome, and Fanconi’s syndrome – rare condition – failure of the kidney mechanism for potassium storage
  • drugs such as insulin and asthma medicines.

Loss of potassium through the gastric tract occurs in cases of chronic diarrhea or excessive use of laxatives. The cause can also be intestinal divergence. Hypokalemia may also occur during moving potassium to other cells. This can be seen in glycogenesis and in insulin therapy.

Physical signs that indicate the lack of potassium are:

  • weakness, fatigue, cramps
  • acne and other skin problems
  • nausea and vomiting
  • inflammation and abdominal cramps
  • Constipation
  • heartburn and arrhythmias
  • a constant sense of thirst
  • anxiety and confusion (4).

People with a lack of potassium can suffer from gastrointestinal pain, swollen glands, and in some of the most difficult forms, diabetes can also occur.

In order to improve the potassium level condition in your body, i.e. to cure hypokalemia, you must consume potassium-rich foods daily in order to compensate for the lost amounts of this mineral. It is also possible to use various potassium supplements. These are mostly given in several smaller doses as large amounts can irritate the digestive tract. If hypokalemia is severe or occurs in patients who are hospitalized for other serious illnesses, the potassium is compensated by the parenteral way.

It is very important to pay attention and cure this condition as it not only affects one’s weight and physical appearance but, more importantly, can lead to serious illnesses. Some of them can even have lethal outcomes.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, if you are overweight and are taking lots of sodium, but not enough potassium, the chances that you will stay overweight and develop one of the cardiovascular system diseases are high.

On the other hand, if you increase your potassium intake and balance it with your sodium levels, you have a good prerequisite to trigger the potassium weight loss mechanism. This means that you will build stronger and healthier muscles through exercising and that you will boost your metabolism. Potassium will help you quickly get rid of excess fluids – up to 5 pounds, and start your weight loss journey with energy and enthusiasm.

References

(1) Xianlei C. et al. Potassium and Obesity/Metabolic Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Epidemiological Evidence. Nutrients. 2016 Apr; 8(4): 183. Published online 2016 Mar 25. doi: 10.3390/nu8040183. Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848652/
(2) Krishna GG. Effect of potassium intake on blood pressure. J Am Soc Nephrol. 1990 Jul;1(1):43-52. Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2104250
(3) Elfassy T. et al. Associations of sodium and potassium with obesity measures among diverse US Hispanic/Latino adults: Results from HCHS/SOL. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2018 Feb; 26(2): 442–450. Published online 2018 Jan 10. doi: 10.1002/oby.22089 Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5783725/
(4) Weaver CM. Potassium and Health. Adv Nutr. 2013 May; 4(3): 368S–377S. Published online 2013 May 6. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003533. Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3650509/

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