Potassium and Chloride
Potassium is a major mineral that’s involved in a variety of important processes in the body. It helps two other minerals – sodium and chloride – balance water levels, help the heart beat steadily, send nerve impulses, and support muscle contraction. Potassium can also lessen the potential effects a high-sodium diet has on blood pressure.
Potassium is found in a variety of foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, meats, and milk products. Processed foods tend to be low in potassium (and high in sodium).
Too little dietary potassium can disrupt the balance of acids and bases in the body and contribute to bone loss and kidney stones. It can also increase the risk of hypertension. A potassium deficiency can lead to muscle cramps or weakness, confusion, and a reduced appetite. In addition, if blood levels of potassium drop too quickly, heart rhythms can be disrupted and be fatal.
People at risk for a potassium deficiency include those who consume poor diets because of alcoholism or eating disorders. Chronic diarrhea, prolonged vomiting, overuse of diuretics or laxatives, and exercise or heavy labor in hot weather that leads to high loss of body water can also cause low blood levels of potassium. People who consume a lot of black natu4ral licorice (not artificial licorice, which is what most licorice made in the United States is), which contains a compound called glycorrhizic acid, can also excrete more potassium and have lower blood levels.
Because the kidneys typically remove excess potassium from the body, consuming too much from the diet is rarely a problem. But extremely high intakes of potassium that raise potassium blood levels too high can lead to cardiac arrest and even death. Those at risk for high blood levels of potassium include people with kidney problems and anyone taking potassium supplements. Although there is no UL for potassium intake, do not take potassium supplements without consulting your doctor first.
Diuretics are drugs that cause urination or water loss from the body.
Laxatives are drugs that cause looser stools or increased bowel movements.
Chloride is a major mineral that works with two other minerals – sodium and potassium – to regulate water balance in the body. It is also a key component of hydrochloric acid (or gastric juices.) Chloride also helps create nerve impulses and support immune functions.
Most of the chloride we consume comes from sodium chloride, or table salt. Sea salt, seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, olives, soy sauce, and many processed foods also contain chloride. Chloride is also found as potassium chloride in a variety of salt substitutes. Although there’s limited data on the amount of chloride in various foods, you can estimate your total chloride intake by multiplying your intake of sodium in milligrams by 1.5, because table salt is 60 percent chloride. For example, if your daily sodium intake is roughly 2,500 milligrams, here’s your estimated chloride intake: 2,500 milligrams sodium multiplied by 1.5 equals 3,750 milligrams of chloride.
If your body loses too much fluid, from excessive sweating, vomiting (from eating disorders or other causes), diarrhea, or the use or overuse of diuretics, you can develop a chloride deficiency. If you become dehydrated, you can also be at risk for metabolic acidosis, a potentially fatal condition.
Too much chloride from food or vitamins supplements does not appear to be toxic.
Hydrochloric acid is made of hydrogen and chloride that is created by gastric glands and secreted into the stomach to help the body digest and absorb nutrients.
Metabolic acidosis is a condition in which the body’s acid/base balance is disturbed and blood pH levels rise (and the blood becomes more acidic).