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Potassium is one of the electrolytes essential to the smooth running of the human body; in fact just about all bodily functions depend on it to some extent. It is also one of the most abundant minerals in the body, constituting 70% of the positive ions inside cells; the rest are a mixture of sodium, magnesium, calcium, arginine, and others. Potassium is distributed to the cells by a process of passive diffusion and is regulated by an enzyme called adenosinetriphosphatase together with the level of sodium concentration inside the cell. Potassium and sodium are antagonistic, which means that an imbalance of one will automatically cause an imbalance of the other; normally potassium should predominate inside the cell.
Potassium is necessary for normal cell respiration; a deficiency can cause decreased levels of oxygen, which will reduce the efficiency of cell function. Adequate supplies of potassium are also required to regulate heartbeat, facilitate normal muscle contraction, regulate the transfer of nutrients to cells, and regulate kidney function and stomach juice secretion, among other things. One of the most important uses of potassium in the body is in the process of nerve transmission, as it is a cofactor catalyst for the activation of several enzyme systems, but since only minute amounts are required for these processes, deficiency in this respect is unlikely.
Potassium is thought to be therapeutically useful in many ways, including assisting in the treatment of alcoholism, acne, alleviating allergies, promoting the healing of burns, and preventing high blood pressure. It can also help with such problems as congestive heart failure, chronic fatigue syndrome, or kidney stones. People suffering from any of the above should consider increasing their intake of potassium after talking to a professional.
A deficiency of potassium in the blood is referred to as hypokalemia and manifests itself in many ways. Among the most serious are arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and even infertility, as potassium constitutes a vital element of seminal fluid.
Potassium deficiency will increase acid levels in the body, lowering the natural pH, which will have far reaching effects. Lack of potassium can also aggravate problems caused by lack of protein. If potassium levels are down, the liver cannot operate normally, particularly regarding transformation of glucose to glycogen. A healthy liver should have about twice as much potassium as sodium.
Potassium deficiency can cause problems with the formation of connective tissue, and can render normally strong body tissue vulnerable to all kinds of problems. The collagen of a healthy person is approximately as strong as steel, and the strength of bone tissue can be likened to that of cast iron. Lack of potassium may create a susceptibility to fractures, skin lesions that do not heal, or other connective tissue problems. So important is potassium for the protection of collagen that many natural health gurus claim that along with other vital nutrients, it constitutes an essential element of protection against premature aging. As long ago as the 1920s, Max Gerson was the first person ever to cure lupus lesions with a diet designed to reduce abnormally high sodium levels and raise potassium levels to normal, which was entirely raw fruit and vegetables.
Potassium is essential to the efficient processing of foods in the body; without it they cannot be broken down into the proper compounds. This can lead to rheumatism, and is one reason why adequate potassium prevents rheumatism.
Author Info: Patricia Skinner, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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