Depression is Linked to Potassium Deficiency

Low Potassium? Too Bad!

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, insomnia, constipation, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney stones, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, obesity, headaches, pain in the eyes, muscle spasms, "restless leg syndrome," fatigue, or muscle tension, to name a few, you may be deficient in potassium.

Potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body. It is also an electrolyte that regulates blood pressure, water retention, muscle activity, and proper function of every cell in your body. Potassium helps the cells in the body eliminate toxic waste, promotes balanced pH levels, and increases energy.

Low potassium levels (hypokalemia), can cause weakness as cellular processes are impaired.

Potassium is a mineral (electrolyte) in the body. Almost 98% of potassium is found inside the cells. Small changes in the level of potassium that is present outside the cells can have severe effects on the heart, nerves, and muscles.

Potassium is important to maintain several bodily functions:
  • Muscles need potassium to contract.
  • The heart muscle needs potassium to beat properly and regulate blood pressure.

The kidney is the main organ that controls the balance of potassium by removing excess potassium into the urine.

Diet as Cause of Potassium Deficiency

There are many factors that can affect the imbalance and deficiency of potassium in the body. These include diet, sodium/potassium ratio in the body, stress, excessive consumption of licorice, and several medications.

Eating a diet of mostly processed foods or foods that have been excessively cooked, results in low potassium intake. Fad diets also play a contributing factor in potassium deficiency.

According to the Eck Institute, "Many people assume that a high sodium/potassium ratio indicates an excessive salt intake. While possibly true, in many instances salt eating has little impact upon the sodium/potassium ratio. A high ratio frequently occurs in people who consume no salt whatsoever! The main causes of a high sodium/potassium ratio are excessive aldosterone secretion due to stress or anger, toxic metals or a zinc and magnesium deficiency. Salt-eating plays a secondary role."

They recommend avoiding table salt because it is a poor quality food. It is best to eat only unrefined pure sea salt which naturally contains minerals. It is not necessary to eliminate all salt from your diet, but rather eat reasonable amounts of high quality sea salt.

It turns out that excessive consumption of licorice can cause potassium deficiency. Not only do some people consume too much licorice, but licorice is also used medicinally to treat tuberculosis, gastritis, hepatitis, and dermatitis. Anyone being treated for these conditions may want to consider taking a potassium supplement.

It is important that anyone with a health condition related to potassium deficiency eliminate the consumption of licorice from their diet. Because hyperthyroidism can cause potassium deficiency, anyone with thyroid disease should not eat licorice as well.

Other Causes for Potassium Deficiency

Low potassium can occur for many reasons. Use of water pills (diuretics), diarrhea, and chronic laxative abuse are the most common causes of low potassium levels.

Illness and other medications may also lower potassium levels. Woman and African-Americans are at higher risk of developing hypokalemia.

Other causes of hypokalemia include: 
  • Kidney losses. Certain kidney disorders such as renal tubular acidosis (for example, chronic kidney failure and acute kidney failure).
    • Magnesium deficiency.
    • Leukemia.
    • Cushing's disease (and other adrenal disorders)
  • Loss of potassium through stomach and intestines
    • Vomiting
    • Enemas or excessive laxative use
    • Diarrhea
    • After ileostomy operation
  • Effect of medicines
    • Water pills (diuretics)
    • Medicines used for asthma or emphysema (beta-adrenergic agonist type of drugs such as bronchodilators, steroids, or theophylline)
    • Aminoglycosides (a type of antibiotic used for treating certain serious infections)
  • Shifting of potassium into and out of cells can lower the concentration of potassium measured in the blood.
    • Use of insulin
    • Certain metabolic states (such as alkalosis)
Effects of Potassium Deficiency

There is a correlation between potassium deficiency and anxiety, irritability, anger, and depression. Lack of potassium may also play a role in insomnia, constipation, and too much acidity in the body.

Since lack of potassium may cause edema, it is possible it plays a role in chronic headaches, pain in the eyes, hypertension, and the rapid increase in body weight in those with hyperthyroidism. Potassium helps to regulate blood pressure, and more specifically lowers blood pressure. Getting enough potassium in your diet could be very helpful in preventing and treating heart disease, as well as preventing a stroke for those with heart disease.

A potassium deficiency can lead to lowered urine citrate, which in turn can lead to kidney stones. Some medical experts believe that potassium deficiency may either cause or make worse rheumatoid arthritis. Sufficient amounts of potassium in the diet may also protect you against hypoglycemia and obesity.

Potassium is stored in the muscles and controls both voluntary and involuntary muscles in the body. Therefore, low potassium in the diet contributes to muscle spasms and twitches, muscle fatigue, leg cramps, and "restless leg syndrome."

Potassium for Depression

Low potassium levels may also be associated with greater risk for mood disturbances and depression. A May 2008 study published in the "British Journal of Nutrition" examined the relationship between dietary electrolytes and mood, and found that a high-potassium diet helped to relieve symptoms of depression and tension among study subjects. These findings suggest both that potassium may be useful in the treatment of mood disturbances and that low potassium levels may be linked to symptoms of depression.

A study in the journal "Nature Neuroscience" published in August 2006 investigated the role of potassium in the regulation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter closely associated with positive mental state. The researchers speculated that potassium channels in the brain may play an important role in serotonin regulation and may contribute to further advances in creating antidepressant medications.

Self-Care at Home

The best way to increase potassium in the body is through diet. Some foods rich in potassium include: bananas, potatoes (baked with skin), prunes, oranges, peaches, tomatoes, raisins, artichokes, lima beans, acorn squash, spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds, molasses, cantaloupe, salmon, and chicken.

According to Dr. Jane Higdon, of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, "There is considerable evidence that a diet supplying at least 4700 mg/day of potassium is associated with decreased risk of stroke, hypertension, osteoporosis, and kidney stones. Fruits and vegetables are among the richest sources of dietary potassium, and a large body of evidence supports the association of increased fruit, vegetable, and nut intakes with reduced risk of chronic disease."

While quite rare, it is possible to overdose on potassium with potentially fatal consequences. Again it is rare, and when it does occur, it is usually caused by underlying medical conditions.

It is important to note that the FDA limits over-the-counter potassium supplements to 99 mg per serving. This amounts to 2.8% of the FDA's own recommended daily allowance. Supposedly this limit is due to concern over potassium overdose. states, "Although there is no established safe upper limit, potassium toxicity appears to develop with an intake of approximately 18,000 mgs and may lead to cardiac arrest." Considering this information, you can see that, while possible, it would be very difficult to overdose on potassium.

Potassium does not work independently. There is a strong relationship between potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Maintaining a balance between these four minerals is crucial to good health. The best way to do this is to increase the overall level of mineral intake in the diet through raw foods.

Due to the typical American diet being high in sodium, it is best to increase the amount of foods high in potassium in your diet. If you have a high sodium intake, and are not eating a balanced diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables, you may also want to take a potassium supplement.

Low Potassium Medical Treatment

Potassium replacement therapy will be directed by the type and severity of the patient's symptoms. Treatment begins after lab tests confirm the diagnosis. People suspected of having severely low potassium need to be placed on a cardiac monitor and have an IV started.

Usually, those with mild or moderately low potassium levels (2.5-3.5 mEq/L), who have no symptoms, or who have only minor complaints only need to be treated with potassium given in pill or liquid form. This is preferred because it is easy to administer, safe, inexpensive, and readily absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Some preparations, or too high of a dose, may irritate the stomach and cause vomiting.

If cardiac arrhythmias or significant symptoms are present or if the potassium level is less than 2.5 mEq/L, IV potassium should be given. In this situation, admission or observation in the emergency department is indicated. Replacing potassium takes several hours as it must be administered very slowly intravenously to avoid heart problems.

For those with severely low potassium and symptoms, both IV potassium and oral medication are necessary.

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