Potassium, Ions, Electrolytes and Sodium

May 21, 2010 No Comments

Potassium is closely linked with electrolytes and sodium, and is an ion itself (as in ionized water). One of the problems with many potassium sources is that they are also high in sodium. Both potassium and sodium are also electrolytes. And electrolytes, as you know, are vital to our system.

What are electrolytes?


Electrolytes are things that become ions in certain solutions, and they are able to conduct electricity. In the human body, the balance of the electrolytes in our bodies is essential for the normal operation of our cells and body organs.

Electrolytes that can be measured by blood tests include both sodium and potassium. The purposes of each, and their normal levels are described below.

What is Sodium?

Sodium is the major positive ion found in fluid on the outside of cells. The chemical notation for sodium is Na+. When sodium is mixed with chloride (another electrolyte), you have table salt. Excess sodium that is obtained from natural food sources is expelled in the urine. Sodium regulates the total amount of water in the body, and the transmission of sodium in and out of individual cells is a vital part of critical body functions. Numerous body functions, especially those that take place in the nervous system, brain, and muscles, communicate and process themselves by using electrical signals – and sodium is critical to the generation of these  signals. An imbalance of sodium, whether too much or too little,  can cause cells to malfunction, and in extreme cases can be fatal.

* Increased blood levels of sodium (hypernatremia) result when there is excess sodium taken in relation to water. This may be brought about by insufficient water consumption, kidney disease, or loss of water caused by diarrhea or vomiting.

* Decreased levels of sodium (hyponatremia) are seen where there is a relative increase in the amount of body water in relation to sodium. Those suffering from diseases of the liver or kidney, congestive heart failure patients, burn victims, and numerous other unfortunate conditions may face elevated sodium levels in their blood.

A blood sodium level is normally expected to be 135 – 145 milliEquivalents/liter.

What is Potassium?

Potassium is the major positive ion found on the inside of cells. The chemical notation for potassium is K+. Maintaining a correct level of potassium is essential for cells to function normally. Potassium also regulates the heartbeat and the functions of muscles. An abnormal increase or abnormal decrease in potassium can shatter the nervous system, and increases the chance of irregular heartbeats. In extreme cases, this too can be fatal.

* Abnormally increased potassium is known as hyperkalemia. Since potassium is normally excreted by the kidneys and urine, any malady that decreases the function of the kidneys can bring about hyperkalemia. Some medications may also predispose a person to hyperkalemia.

* Hypokalemia, abnormally decreased potassium, can be caused by kidney diseases, excessive potassium excretion due to heavy sweating, by vomiting or diarrhea, eating disorders, medications, and more.

The normal blood potassium level is 3.5 – 5.0 milliEquivalents/liter.

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