Potassium is a soft, silver-white metal that binds to other minerals. Found attached to other elements in sea water, it reacts to water by generating enough heat to violently ignite hydrogen. Used as a nutrient for plants and animals, for medical purposes, and for industrial reasons, potassium needs to be used with care.
Sir Humphry Davy discovered potassium in Engand in 1807 by isolating it from other elements using electrolysis. Until then potassium and salt were thought to be the same element. Potassium's name came from the English word potash, which it was originally removed from.
Potassium is needed in the body for the brain and nerves to function. It's used to maintain the body's fluid balance, send nerve impulses, keep cells alive, and contract muscles. Potassium can lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease. Potassium supplements are used mostly to get rid of excess fluid and salt in the body. An important part of plant nutrition, potassium is found in most soil and is used as a fertilizer.
Potassium chloride is often found in salt substitutes for people who are trying to lower their blood pressure. Many foods are high in potassium, including avocados, bananas, oranges, potatoes, fruit juice, tomatoes, beans, green leafy vegetables, fish, squash, oats, clams, oysters, pumpkins, dates, raisins, figs, berries, apricots, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, apples, flax seed and yogurt.
Potash, which is the main source of potassium, is mined in the Dead Sea, California, Utah, New Mexico, Germany and Saskatchewan. Potassium salt deposits are found in sea and lake beds, and the oceans contain potassium. According to a 2006 geological survey, 93 percent of the potassium produced was used by fertilizer industries.
There are many industrial uses for different forms of potassium. Beer and wine makers use it as a preservative. It's used to stop the heart during surgery and is used in portable respirators. Potassium chromate is used in fireworks, to tan leather and as a stain or dye. Potassium can be used to transfer heat, bleach straw, kill weeds, make gunpowder, dissolve copper, make soap, execute by lethal injection and make glass.
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