Potassium is a crucial electrolyte that helps your muscles, but if your levels are too low, you could be in trouble. If you match many of these signs, you might want to ask your doctor about a potassium deficiency. Better safe than sorry!
The scoop on potassium
Like calcium or magnesium, potassium is an electrolyte that helps your body function—it’s also one of the nutrients that nutritionists can’t get enough of. Potassium lowers your blood pressure and helps with digestive and muscular function, so keeping these levels steady and knowing when to get tested for a potassium deficiency can keep you out of the hospital.
You have a poor diet
It’s easy to reach for cookies, chips, and comfort snacks, but if your day-to-day diet isn’t balanced, you could end up with a potassium deficiency. “If this is someone not good at eating fruits and vegetables, eating a lot of processed foods, junk foods, they’re at risk for lower potassium levels,” says Manuel Villacorta MS, registered dietitian and founder of Whole Body Reboot in California. Here are some potassium-rich foods to add to your diet instead.
Your muscles feel weak
When you’re low on potassium, you’ll feel it in your muscles because potassium is an electrolyte needed for muscle construction and contraction. “Potassium is an electrolyte needed by your muscles,” says Villacorta. “One of the first symptoms people feel is muscle contraction.”
Your muscles are cramping
Because your muscles need healthy potassium levels, if you dip below a certain point, you could get muscle cramps. “People experience muscle cramps when their potassium is too low,” says Villacorta.
You’re taking diuretics or fluid pills
According to nutritionist Alyse Levine, MS, RD, of Nutritionbite in California, the most common reason for potassium deficiency is prescription water or fluid pills such as diuretics. The pills cause excessive potassium loss of potassium in urine. “Only rarely is low potassium caused by not getting enough potassium in your diet,” says Levine.
Your heart rate is abnormal
Severely low levels of potassium can mess with your heart rate, and even cause arrhythmias if potassium levels dip critically low. Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N, founder of Essence Nutrition in Florida, says that potassium electrolyte imbalances can even be fatal, which is why they’re so important.
Auslander says that electrolyte imbalances like lowered potassium usually only occur with dehydration, eating disorders, or athletes, but they can be helped. “Coconut water is an excellent re-hydrating method for serious sports,” she says, “but honestly, water has been proven to be almost as good.”
You have dry skin or acne
Megan Lyons, health coach and owner of The Lyons’ Share Wellness in Texas, says a potassium deficiency can show up with easy-to-spot symptoms like dry skin, acne, or digestive discomfort. “Of course, these symptoms are indicated in many different conditions, so it’s important to get tested if you suspect you have a potassium deficiency,” says Lyons.