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My Potassium Deficiency and How I Corrected It (Plus a List of Foods High in Potassium)

By joeylott / February 18, 2017

In this article I will tell you about a potassium deficiency I had, the symptoms that I associated with that, and how I corrected that through simple changes in my diet. I’ll also give you a list of foods high in potassium – foods that I regularly eat to maintain healthy levels of potassium.

As you may know if you read this blog or my books, I don’t advocate for tightly-controlled or regimented diets. And this is no exception.

However, I also think that it is wise to use whatever information we may have in sensible ways.

Case in point, when I found out I had a mild potassium deficiency, I made a few changes (described below) that seem to have improved the quality of my life.

I didn’t go to an extreme. I didn’t start force-feeding myself foods I found unpalatable. I didn’t restrict anything. I didn’t overlook the importance of anything else (like getting enough calories regularly, which is something that I have a long-standing challenge with).

I just found simple ways to adjust my diet to support healthier levels of potassium.

My Potassium Deficiency

Over a year ago, I was having some new symptoms that I attributed to chronic Lyme disease.

Most of the symptoms were cognitive – what I would call “brain fog”.

I decided to get a blood test done to find out if anything showed up.

I paid through LabCorp, drove to Albuquerque to the blood collection, and then returned home to wait for the results.

I got the results a week or two later, and almost everything looked great. Homocysteine, iron, TIBC, WBC, RBC, etc.

Except potassium.

Potassium was 3.4 mmol/L with a reference range of 3.5-5.2.

Not super low. But low.

Okay. Now I had some information.

It wasn’t really exciting or complicated stuff. It was just straightforward: low potassium.

My Symptoms Associated with Mildly Low Potassium

With mild potassium deficiency (hypokalemia), most websites I’ve read state that symptoms are mild and rare.

Certainly, I didn’t have any of the deficiencies associated with more severe potassium deficiency such as muscle cramping and pain, tremors, or constipation.

I didn’t even have high blood pressure, which is typically listed as the most common symptom. But I have always had low blood pressure, not high.

But what I did have was “brain fog” symptoms and an increase in foot pain (a symptom I developed after getting Lyme disease). I also had recurrent kidney stones over the course of several years, which may have been related to potassium deficiency.

How I Corrected My Potassium Deficiency

Research on the internet turns up a lot of possible causes of potassium deficiency.

Most were not applicable to me.

For example, various drugs can cause potassium deficiency, but I did not and do not use any drugs (pharmaceutical or otherwise).

Other common causes such as chronic diarrhea, vomiting, or excessive sweating also did not apply.

The two most likely explanations were:

  1. I wasn’t eating enough potassium
  2. I wasn’t eating enough magnesium

Obviously, eating enough potassium is important to maintain healthy potassium levels. And although I ate a diet much richer in potassium than the average American (I ate and eat a lot of potatoes, orange juice, and milk – all rich in potassium), when I did the math, I was slightly on the low side of the recommended 4700 mg of potassium daily.

Magnesium may not be an obvious reason for potassium deficiency, it turns out that “potassium depletion cannot be corrected until magnesium depletion is corrected”. [1]

The reason is that magnesium helps the body to use and retain healthy levels of potassium.

So I had the two simplest and most likely causes (and solutions) to my potassium deficiency.

What I did was simple: I started including more potassium-rich foods in my diet and added a magnesium supplement to my diet.

As a result, my potassium deficiency has been corrected, and my symptoms have been relieved.

I can’t say for certain that the potassium deficiency caused my symptoms. In fact, I believe that some of the symptoms may have other underlying causes (something I will write about in another blog post). But it is clear to me that these simple changes have resulted in a significant improvement in symptoms.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, I am now somewhat conservative in my use of nutritional supplements. I think it is safest to rely on food because with supplements there are too many unknown variables.

But with magnesium, I mostly rely on a magnesium glycinate supplement, which I believe may be among the safest form of supplemental magnesium. I take anywhere between 400 and 800 mg of magnesium daily…when I remember and am inclined to do so (which isn’t always).

The List of Foods High in Potassium That I Eat Regularly

If you search the internet, you can easily find lists of foods high in potassium. That includes things like beans, green vegetables, and yogurt – none of which I eat daily.

I do like chard, spinach, and beans – all of which are high in potassium. But they are not staples in my diet.

So I wanted to focus on foods that I knew I would actually eat regularly.

[Note: as far as I know, potassium is not bound by oxalic acid or phytic acid, so sources of potassium such as beans and chard are likely good sources of potassium. But they are not good sources of magnesium because magnesium is bound by these acids, found in these foods.]

Here is a list of the foods high in potassium that I eat regularly. Note that I don’t eat all of these all the time. But I eat a few of these foods every day.

  • orange juice – about 500 mg per cup
  • milk – about 350 mg per cup
  • potato – about 900 mg per medium potato
  • avocado – about 900 mg per medium avocado
  • sardines – about 400 mg per can (also a good dource of magnesium) – I eat the bone-in sardines in water from Wild Planet
  • sweet potato – about 450 mg per cup
  • molasses – according to the nutrition label, Wholesome Sweetners blackstrap molasses contains about 600 mg per tablespoon, but the internet reports different values for different molasses products

I drink orange juice and milk and eat potatoes almost every day. I do so because I like them – not for any other reason.

I typically drink about 3 cups of orange juice and 2 cups of milk, for a combined 2200 mg of potassium.

I typically eat what I think probably is about the equivalent of 2 medium potatoes per day, which is about 1800 mg of potassium.

Between those, that’s 4000 mg of potassium.

Obviously, I eat more food in a day than orange juice, milk, and potatoes. So by including just a few other potassium-rich foods, I eat enough potassium to reach the recommended minimum of 4700 mg each day.

Truth be told, I frequently consume 8000 mg or more per day. Though on other days, I may consume less. I’m not rigid about any of this. I’m just cognizant of roughly how much potassium I’m eating and if I notice that I seem to be low for a few days, I will consciously include more potassium-rich foods for a bit.

The Outcome

I see health as an interconnected web. I don’t see symptoms as necessarily the result of a singular thing.

So I’m hesitant to say that increasing my potassium intake and taking supplemental magnesium has “solved the problem”.

But I can say that my potassium levels are now fine and I have relief from some symptoms that I was experiencing concurrent with low potassium levels.

Also, though it’s hard to proclaim victory in the case of kidney stones, I will say this: low potassium is connected with kidney stones (and adequate potassium seems to protect against kidney stones), and I have had no more kidney stones and no more indications of pending kidney stones since I corrected my potassium deficiency.

In any case, I don’t see any likely harm from an otherwise healthy person consuming adequate amounts of dietary potassium from real food and also consuming enough magnesium (though getting magnesium from a supplement is somewhat questionable in my mind).

Obviously, there are some conditions in which the mainstream recommendation is to avoid dietary potassium as much as possible. And I certainly am not suggesting that anybody should or should not reject that advice. I am fortunate enough that I appear not to have any such conditions.

I am merely sharing my story. As somebody who is otherwise healthy (with some lingering symptoms I attribute to Lyme disease and a legacy of 20 years of starvation), I found that correcting my potassium deficiency was helpful to my health and quality of life.

I hope my story is useful to you.

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