Why Potassium is Essential to Gut Health
Do you often experience bloating or constipation?
Today we are going to dig into the connection between electrolytes, particularly potassium and your gut.
Your gut health is the core of your overall health.
Your gut is where you take everything that you eat and drink and transform it into the many building blocks your body needs to function. From making energy, being able to think clearly, sleep well, maintain a healthy weight, build muscle, and clear out toxins that need clearing out daily, your gut is at the ROOT of your overall function. It’s also where 80% or more of your immune system lives.
It is my passion is to work with people like you whose health symptoms–like low energy, gut/digestive issues, excess weight, mood imbalance, chronic infections, and skin & sleep problems–are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully.
Let’s dig into how potassium and electrolytes play into this.
What Do Electrolytes Do?
Electrolytes are minerals found in the body that conduct electricity in body fluids. Because of the very nature of electrolytes, they are an important part of the transmission of electrical messages from your brain and along your nerves. When in water, electrolytes dissolve in positive and negative ions. Aside from their important role in sending nerve signals, they help in the regulation of your body fluids and muscle contractions. Examples of electrolytes are sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which are responsible for the normal tone of the muscles in your limbs, heart, arteries, and intestines. So, imbalance in the electrolyte levels of your body can affect any or all of your vital functions.
Interestingly, potassium is the third most abundant mineral in the body. Around 98% of it is found in your cells, 80% of which stays in your muscle cells and 20% in your bones, liver, and red blood cells. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, potassium is essential for muscle contraction and they recommend that adults have about 4,700 milligrams daily from dietary sources.
Potassium and Digestion
Remember, digestion occurs through rhythmic intestinal contractions (known as peristalsis). The smooth muscle inside your digestive tract is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the part of your nervous system that works automatically without your conscious effort and control. Peristalsis occurs through the alternating contraction and relaxation of the smooth muscle tissue in your intestinal wall, creating a wave-like effect that pushes the contents forward along your digestive tract. It is clear, then, that in order for digestion, absorption, and waste elimination to occur–processes that take place in the digestive system–there should be enough minerals and electrolytes to support peristalsis.
Potassium, being an electrolyte, is partly responsible for muscles contraction. So when there is a low level of potassium in your body, peristalsis slows down, and this leads to compromised digestion. If you find yourself frustrated waiting on the “throne” for longer periods of time (aka constipation), you may have an underlying electrolyte imbalance, particularly hypokalemia or potassium deficiency.
Sources of Potassium
As cliche as it is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, it’s better to get sufficient potassium in your diet or via supplementation than to suffer the consequences of not having enough electrolytes in your body. Don’t worry, potassium sources are not hard to find. Foods high in potassium include avocados, spinach and leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, russet potatoes, beet greens, pistachios, Swiss chard, pomegranates, watermelon, and coconut water to name a few. If you are following a low-carb or keto eating plan, here are some additional sources. If you are following a moderate to high carb eating plan, here are some additional foods to consider.
If you don’t eat foods that are providing enough potassium, or if you sweat a lot, or if you exercise a lot and suspect you need more potassium, you may want to consider Seeking Health’s Optimal Potassium Powder (1 scoop provides 500 mg of potassium and it’s pretty tasty!) or one of my favorites is their Optimal Electrolyte Powderbecause it has potassium, magnesium and other electrolytes versus potassium alone. Those taking medications such as diuretics and antibiotics also lose potassium easily and are at high risk for potassium deficiency. As is advised with any supplements, it is best to consult your health care provider before starting it (especially if you are taking medications).
Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!
Great article, Rebecca! I’ve never thought about the autonomic role that potassium plays in digestion, and I’ve always been one to shy away from potassium because I had adrenal issues. So now I can see why supplementing with 1/4 tsp potassium chloride in water the past couple days has really helped!
Thanks again for the well-written and informative article —