Potassium — an important electrolyte in your adrenal and overall health!
This page is written by Janie Bowthorpe, creator of this site and hypothyroid/Hashi’s patient.
Ever heard of Electrolytes? They are electrically-charged minerals/ions found in your body, usually blood and other body fluids, and their balance is critical for optimal function of all your cells and organs! The most common electrolytes are
And on this page, let’s talk about potassium.
Potassium is a mineral your body needs for almost everything! For one, by controlling the electrical signals in your heart, the right amount of potassium plays an important role in helping your heart push blood through your body at the right pace and rhythm.1 The right amount of potassium can also help reduce high blood pressure2 as well as lower the risk of a stroke.3
The right amount of potassium can help relax your blood vessels and carry out too much sodium4 which is why it helps blood pressure. It also helps your muscles to contract, plus it supports nerve function.5 Potassium may also support good bone health6.
How our bodies get the potassium they need
We can get good amounts of potassium via the foods we eat. Dried apricots are especially high in potassium. Other foods with a focus on potassium include oranges, acorn squash, prunes, kidney beans, coconut water (my favorite way to get needed potassium), and even bananas. If someone finds their potassium levels are too low via testing (see below), some patients report using potassium supplements. But changing the diet to potassium rich foods has worked well. Here’s a list of foods and the amount of potassium.
(NOTE: if you have kidney disease, which pushes potassium too high, taking potassium supplements or eating high potassium foods can be a problem–talk to your doctor).
Some of us may need to be taking Betaine (man-made hydrochloric acid) to improve the breakdown and absorption of what we eat. Or adding a little lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to water helps. the need for betaine or an acid in water is especially true if we are still in a hypothyroid state, which tends to lower our natural stomach acid production. Aging can also decrease the natural release of stomach acid in some. Others add digestive enzymes to their betaine or acid.
What causes my potassium levels to get too low? What are symptoms of low potassium?
For hypothyroid / Hashimoto’s patients, one cause we have noticed for a declining potassium level is due to seeing one’s aldosterone levels fall and staying too low for a length of time. Aldosterone is another steroid made in the adrenals. And in a percentage of people, having stressed adrenals (whether too high cortisol, too low cortisol, or both) also results in a declining aldosterone level. And the longer we have low aldosterone, the more likely we eventually see potassium fall, we as patients have noticed.
Others can see potassium fall due to any cause of excess diarrhea from gastrointestinal illnesses.
With declining potassium levels, we as patients have first noticed blood pressure problems or heart palpitations. We can eventually have muscle cramps or spasms from the low potassium. You can find yourself with fluid retention. Low potassium can result in less release of insulin, thus higher blood sugar.
Even taking Florinef when we have low aldosterone can tank potassium
Florinef, aka fludrocortisone, a man-made aldosterone, is often prescribed for low aldosterone. But Florinef can further lower potassium. So we as patients, working with an informed doctor, learned the hard way to take or eat good amounts of potassium when on Florinef to counter the tanking of potassium. Some need to take prescription potassium, which is in higher amounts.
Low potassium can make it difficult to raise Florinef to the right amount, for some.
Since prescription Florinef further tanks potassium on top of the low potassium one already had from having low aldosterone, one can find themselves having horrible side effects with trying to raise Florinef. We learned to talk to our doctor about taking prescription potassium, or trying to drink enough coconut water with every meal and see via labwork if it counters the potassium dive.
How to test for low potassium
Though some information implies you need to do RBC potassium (measuring the amount of potassium in your red blood cells), we’ve been looking at serum blood results for so long that we see consistent results for those with the right amount of potassium. i.e. if the top of the range is around 5.2 or 5.3 give or take, healthy potassium levels seem to fall around 4.7 or 4.8ish. So when someone has aldosterone which is falling, we see low serum potassium starting at 4.4 and even lower. You are always free to test RBC potassium as well, even though we’ve learned to read serum potassium quite well over the years.
Diabetes and low potassium
This study from 2011 shows an association with low potassium and diabetes.
Warning: Why we don’t shoot our potassium too high
High potassium is not good, either. You can find yourself with pain in your belly, feeling weak, heart palpitations (same symptom as low potassium), chest pain, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath.
The most common cause for high potassium is kidney disease or kidney failure. But it can go too high from taking too much, or from any of the below.7
- Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency)
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Beta blockers
- Destruction of red blood cells due to severe injury or burns
- Type 1 diabetes
- 1. https://www.healthline.com/health/high-potassium/cardiovascular-disease-and-high-potassium#potassium
- 2. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/how-potassium-can-help-control-high-blood-pressure
- 3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/potassium-rich-foods-linked-to-lower-stroke-risk-#:~:text=Ischemic%20strokes%2C%20the%20most%20common,blood%20vessel%20supplying%20the%20brain.&text=with%20high%20blood%20pressure.,factor%20for%20stroke%E2%80%94sets%20in.
- 4. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/reducing-sodium-and-increasing-potassium-may-lower-risk-of-cardiovascular-disease/#:~:text=Potassium%20has%20an%20opposite%20effect,starchy%20vegetables%20like%20winter%20squash.
- 5. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4615-1061-1_18
- 6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28093633/#:~:text=Dietary%20potassium%20may%20neutralize%20acid,effect%20on%20bone%20mineral%20density.
- 7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/hyperkalemia/basics/causes/sym-20050776