Potassium is a an abundant mineral in the body and provides many important functions. As such, if an imbalance occurs, it can reek havoc on the health of the body.
Not only does potassium play an important role functioning as an electrolyte—muscle and nerve cell function, heart function, water balance and distribution, kidney and adrenal function and acid-base balance—it also serves in the conversion of blood sugar (glucose) into glycogen (stored form of blood sugar).
Potassium deficiency is unlikely in a healthy person, but can occur with dehydration due to excessive diarrhea or vomiting, alcoholism, anorexia, certain types of kidney disease, magnesium deficiency, bulimia or a dependency on laxatives.
Potassium deficiency produces fatigue and weakness in muscles as a first sign. More severe symptoms may include irritability, weakness, mental confusion, heart disturbances, and problems in muscle contraction and nerve conduction. Extreme cases can cause paralysis and risk of heart failure.
Quite often, it is not so much a deficiency in potassium as it is an enormous amount of fluid loss. Prolonged exercise, especially in a warm environment, can increase the amount of potassium lost. Thus, those who exercise regularly require a higher dosage.
For the most part, it is quite simple to receive enough potassium through dietary means of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, meats and dairy. The recommended daily allowance of potassium is 1.9 to 5.6 grams.