Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency

When we consider vitamin and mineral deficiency, the deficiencies that come to mind tend to be the most common ones. We know all about calcium deficiency as it will affect our bones, we know all about iron deficiency as it could possibly lead to anemia. Also, many of us are well aware of the deficiency diseases caused because of a lack of sufficient vitamins. However, what we do not know is that some of the lesser known minerals are as essential to our bodies.

In this article, we will deal specifically with potassium deficiency, the problems associated with it, and foods that you can include to ensure that your body gets its daily requirement of potassium.

What is Potassium Deficiency?

The mineral potassium is an electrolyte that is used by many of the body’s functions on a cellular level. Normally, the body needs about 4.7 grams of potassium every day for adults. Teenagers require about the same amount, with children and babies needing a lot less. Listed below are the daily potassium requirements, depending on age, gender, and condition:

  • Infants under 6 months, 0.4 grams
  • Infants between 6 and 12 months, 0.7 grams
  • Children between 1 and 3, 3 grams
  • Children between 4 and 8, 3.8 grams
  • Boys between 9 and 13, 4.5 grams
  • Men between 14 and 70, 4.7 grams
  • Girls between 9 and 13, 4.5 grams
  • Women between 14 and 70, 4.7 grams
  • Pregnant women, 4.7 grams
  • Lactating women, 5.1 grams

When the body does not get its daily requirement on a regular basis, it leads to what is known as potassium deficiency. Potassium deficiency is medically referred to as hypokalemia.

Causes of Potassium Deficiency

As a general rule, potassium deficiency does not occur due to a dietary insufficiency. This is because potassium can be obtained from a wide range of food sources such as meat, chicken, fish, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and nuts. Research shows that potassium deficiency is common in certain conditions and with certain illnesses. Below are the main reasons for potassium deficiency.

  • Excessive vomiting and diarrhea (usually occurs in cases of food poisoning and stomach infections)
  • Consuming laxatives
  • Consuming diuretics on a regular basis
  • Consuming steroidal drugs
  • Kidney problems
  • Adrenal gland problems

Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency

Some of the common symptoms of potassium deficiency are as follows:

  • Slightly elevated blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Glucose intolerance
  • Increased risk of kidney stones
  • Muscular weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Cramps in muscles
  • Constipation

Some severe symptoms of potassium deficiency include:

  • Very high blood pressure
  • Flaccid paralysis (paralysis of muscles without an apparent cause)
  • Hyporeflexia (poor reflexes)
  • Cardiovascular disease and strokes

Problems Related to Potassium Deficiency

Below we will discuss some of the major problems associated with potassium deficiency. Some of the common problems associated with potassium deficiency are birth defects, anemia, and heat intolerance.

Potassium Deficiency and Birth Defects

During pregnancy, most women are advised to consume plenty of vitamins and minerals to help both the mother and the developing fetus. Most women are asked to take folic acid, zinc, and iron supplements; however, there is not a lot of stress on the micronutrient potassium. This is because most of the foods we eat contain potassium and there is no real need for supplementation. However, when potassium levels drop in pregnant women, it can lead to serious problems such as high blood pressure, which is known to cause defects in the fetus. This happens in cases when the sodium intake is very high in pregnant women.

Potassium Deficiency Heat Intolerance

Potassium deficiency is also associated with heat intolerance, although this is not a direct consequence of potassium deficiency. Since potassium is found in such abundance, it is very rare for anyone to have a deficiency unless they have severe diarrhea or vomiting. This removes a lot of the fluid out of the system, and the potassium is lost in this process. When this is done, consuming fluids without any salts in it can result in deficiency. This is why electrolytes are provided when severe vomiting or diarrhea is experienced. During the loss of potassium, sodium salts are also lost, and it is the loss of sodium that causes heat intolerance. Since they come together, it is easy to assume that potassium deficiency causes heat intolerance.

Tips to Avoid Potassium Deficiency:

  • Eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water will help avoid potassium deficiency.
  • Potassium is found in abundance in all the food that we eat, both meat as well as vegetable products, so a good diet will usually be sufficient to meet your requirements.
  • Supplements need to be taken only when you are on a very severely restricted diet, where your body does not obtain the required quantity of the micronutrient. It is however, inadvisable, to take potassium in the form of supplements, and its long-term effects on the body have not yet been studied.