Why is potassium necessary in the diet?

Potassium is an essential mineral that plays many biological roles. Here is a partial list of functions that potassium performs in the body:
  • Activation of critical enzymes in carbohydrate metabolism, and in the conversion of glucose to glycogen.
  • Activation of enzymes in protein metabolism and synthesis.
  • Maintaining fluid balance and cellular integrity.
  • Nerve cell firing.
  • Muscle contraction.
  • Kidney function.
  • The secretion of insulin involves regulation of potassium flow in and out of cells.
  • Maintaining proper sodium/potassium balance prevents urinary loss of calcium, which may weaken bones and ultimately lead to osteoporosis.

Good sources of potassium include milk, cheese, green leafy vegetables, oranges, grapefruits, bananas, honey, anchovies, and molasses. Anything that causes excessive fluid loss can lead to potassium depletion (for example, alcoholism, bulimia, or laxative abuse).

Related resources

Potassium, As Important as Sodium? (Mary P. Clarke, Kansas State University)
A short article on the nutritional benefits of potassium, with paper references.
Potassium in the Body (amazon.com)
Seven books on the biochemical and nutritional role of potassium available from amazon.com.
Food for Thought
Potassium is an essential mineral for plants, too.

Author: Fred Senese senese@antoine.frostburg.edu

General Chemistry Online! Why is potassium necessary in the diet?

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Last Revised 08/17/15.URL: http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/inorganic/faq/print-potassium-nutritional-role.shtml