Potassium is a chemical element with the atomic number 19. It is highly reactive and only exists as ionic salts in nature. Seawater contains 0.04 percent potassium by weight, and many minerals contain also significant amounts of potassium. Pure potassium must be prepared in the laboratory and will burn in water.
All living organisms require potassium, so fruits and vegetables are generally good dietary sources of potassium. By the same token, crop production can rapidly deplete the soil of potassium. Fertilization with potassium is therefore an essential component in commercial agriculture, which accounts for 95 percent of the world’s use of potassium.
Potash is the primary source of commercial potassium, which has been manufactured since about 500 AD. It’s prepared by burning wood completely to ash. This ash is then soaked in water, which is allowed evaporate. The remaining crystals are mostly potassium salts.
The German chemist Georg Ernst Stahl suspected that salts of sodium and potassium were fundamentally different by 1702. However, this theory wasn’t established scientifically until the French botanist Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau did so in 1736. Sodium and potassium salts were finally separated for the first time in 1807 with electrolysis.
The bioavailable forms of potassium used in health supplements include potassium phosphate and potassium citrate. Potassium phosphate is a general term for any salt of potassium and phosphate. However, monopotassium phosphate (KH2PO4) is the specific form typically found in health supplements. This form of potassium phosphate is also known by other names such as potassium dihydrogen and monobasic potassium phosphate.
Potassium citrate (C6H5K3O7) is also known as tripotassium citrate since it contains three potassium atoms. The pure compound is a white, crystalline powder with a salty taste. Potassium citrate is often used in foods to regulate the acidity from other ingredients. It may also help to manage kidney stones that are primarily composed of cystine and uric acid. Potassium citrate is often used as a non-irritating diuretic.
The uses of potassium in health supplements primarily relate to its role in maintaining the balance of electrolytes and fluids in the body. Specific benefits of potassium include healthy circulation support, heart health, bone health and kidney health support.
Potassium may help to maintain healthy circulation, especially systolic pressure. This benefit is most helpful for people with a high sodium intake.
Potassium phosphate and potassium citrate supplements may help to manage kidney stones by dissolving calcium deposits.
Potassium may support healthy cardiovascular function by helping to regulate normal heart rhythm. This benefit is independent of potassium’s effects on blood pressure.
Potassium may help to maintain normal bone density, especially for older women.
The most significant indication that you may need potassium is a plasma potassium level below the normal range of 3.5 to 5.0 mole equivalents per liter. The first signs of a potassium deficiency, known medically as hypokalemia, typically include a slight increase in blood pressure and possibly abnormal heart rhythm. The symptoms of more severe hypokalemia are primarily due to disturbances in muscle function, including tremors, cramps, weakness and constipation.
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