10m read|NOVOS

Potassium For Health And Longevity

A simple thing can significantly cut your risk of stroke, high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, and death: Potassium. 

Potassium is an often ignored, forgotten electrolyte that has been shown in studies to mitigate the above risks.  

For example, one large study with more than 10,000 people showed that for each 1,000 mg of potassium intake the risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 18% (R). 

Another study with 20,000 people found that replacing normal salt (sodium chloride) with a small amount of potassium chloride decreased the risk of stroke by 14%, cardiovascular events by 13%, and death by 12% (R).  

However, likely the results could have been even better by using salts that contain significantly more potassium chloride. 

Increasing your intake of potassium is also a great way to reduce high blood pressure (hypertension) (R). 

More about potassium

So what is potassium? And why is it so important for optimal health and longevity? 

Potassium is a mineral that occurs naturally in our bodies. It is mainly found in foods that we all consider as healthy, like fruits (bananas, apricots), vegetables, legumes, and nuts. 

Given most people don’t eat enough of these healthy foods, it’s not surprising that so many people are potassium-deficient.

However, even when consuming a lot of these “potassium-rich” foods, there is still a significant risk of not consuming enough potassium for optimal longevity. 

Not consuming enough potassium can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, muscle aches, difficulty concentrating, ADHD-like symptoms, sleep problems, being easily irritated, and other symptoms. One can also be asymptomatic. 

Potassium is a very important mineral that is found in high concentration in all our cells. It’s needed for proper cell functioning, enabling, for example, muscle cells and nerve cells to properly contract and fire. 

Actually, 30 to 40 percent of all the energy our body consumes goes to activating tiny molecular pumps that pump potassium back into our cells (and sodium out of the cells). 

Despite potassium’s importance for the optimal functioning of our bodies, it’s difficult to diagnose potassium deficiencies or a suboptimal potassium intake. 

After all, potassium levels in the body are mainly assessed via a blood test. However,  potassium levels in the blood are almost always normal, even when being deficient. 

Potassium levels mostly only become abnormal when there is something very wrong, such as when suffering from severe kidney dysfunction, or when losing lots of blood, or vomiting a lot. 

Why extra potassium is needed 

An adequate dose of potassium is 4,700 mg of potassium per day. 

However, in pre-agricultural societies, potassium intake could be even up to 7,000 to 15,000 mg per day (R). 

Unfortunately, most people in the West only consume around 2,250 mg of potassium per day. That’s way too little. 

To make sure you consume enough potassium, take around 2,000 mg of extra potassium per day on top of a healthy, potassium-rich diet (which contains a lot of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts). 

The easiest way to achieve this is by taking “potassium salts,” such as potassium chloride (see further below). 

Such potassium salts are available in many (large) supermarkets or online, sold in jars like regular salt. 

However, some people, often not well-versed in potassium, claim that taking extra potassium can be dangerous, given it can lead to heart rhythm disorders (potassium is involved in the contraction of muscles, after all). 

This would be the case if the potassium were injected intravenously, causing a sudden very high rise of potassium blood levels that can quickly lead to cardiac arrest. 

However, it’s difficult to overdose with potassium when taking it orally, in which case the uptake of potassium by the gut is much slower and well-regulated. If one takes a few grams of potassium salt orally at a time, one need not worry about overdosing, let alone heart problems. 

Another reason some people think that too much potassium is dangerous is because the FDA has restricted the amount of potassium in supplements to a maximum of 99 mg of potassium per capsule. This is very little, especially given people need at least 4,700 mg of potassium per day (this would amount to 47 capsules per day). 

The reason for this restriction, however, is not that too much potassium in a supplement would cause heart rhythm problems, but that the capsules, when bursting open in the gut, can cause burns in the gut wall. 

After all, potassium salts are salts, and too much salt concentrated in one place can irritate the vulnerable lining of the stomach and gut. 

That’s why we advise to consume potassium salts as a powder dissolved in a glass of water and not via capsules (see further down). 

Potassium salts for health

So what are potassium salts? And why are they a great way to increase your potassium intake?

A commonly used potassium salt is “potassium chloride.” Regular table salt, on the other hand, is “sodium chloride.” 

Given potassium chloride has a bitter taste, mixed salts are available, containing a mix of potassium chloride and sodium chloride (regular salt). 

For example, LoSalt (not sponsored) contains 66% potassium chloride, and 33% sodium chloride (regular salt). 

In order to consume an extra 2,000 mg of potassium (“potassium,” not “potassium chloride”) per day, you would need to consume 5.8 grams of this mixed salt per day. 

Given this is a mixed salt (also containing sodium chloride), you would then also consume an extra 750 mg of sodium (most governments recommend limiting your sodium intake to a maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium — which corresponds to about 6 grams of regular salt). 

Consuming some extra sodium via LoSalt is OK, given this way one always still consumes three times more potassium than sodium (the ratio of potassium to sodium is also very important, not just the total sodium intake). 

Also, some studies suggest that reducing sodium intake too much, while leading to a lower blood pressure, could actually increase the risk of heart problems (R,R,R,R). Reducing sodium intake too much could also increase the risk of insulin resistance (R,R,R,R). 

So if you are a person who generally does not consume a lot of sodium, then you can somewhat increase your sodium intake with a mixed salt like LoSalt (not sponsored). 

Sodium is mainly found in processed, pre-packaged foods that you don’t prepare yourself and to which salt is added. Examples are pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, frozen meals, sandwiches, biscuits, burritos, tacos, pretzels, soups, sauces, cold cuts, cured meats, chicken, canned foods (including canned fish and canned legumes). Cheese, dressings, store-bought vegetable juices, and pickles also often contain lots of sodium. 

If you mainly prepare your food at home yourself — and wash off canned beans, for example — then likely your sodium intake is low. You then can take mixed salts like LoSalt that contain both sodium and potassium. 

If you, however, are at risk of already consuming a lot of sodium, then you could try to avoid the extra 750 mg of sodium you would take with a mixed salt like LoSalt — but again, given the ratio of sodium to potassium with this salt is very good, it likely doesn’t matter that much. 

You then can use pure potassium chloride salt (100% potassium chloride), although this kind of salt tastes quite bitter. Given one gram of potassium chloride contains 524 mg of potassium, you would then need to consume around 4 grams of 100% potassium chloride salt per day. 

It’s important to divide these doses throughout the day, add them to a full glass of water (minimum 8 oz/240 ml), and consume this after a meal (not on an empty stomach), given too high amounts of potassium salts can irritate the lining of the stomach or gut.  

For example, you can consume 2 x 2 grams of pure (100%) potassium chloride per day, as follows:

  • 2 grams in a full glass of water after breakfast (not on an empty stomach), and
  • 2 grams in a full glass of water after dinner (not on an empty stomach). 

When using LoSalt (66% potassium chloride and 33% sodium chloride), you can consume 3 x 2 grams per day, for example: 

  • 2 grams in a full glass of water after breakfast (not on an empty stomach), and
  • 2 grams in a full glass of water after lunch (not on an empty stomach), and
  • 2 grams in a full glass of water after dinner (not on an empty stomach).

You can buy a small, digital weighing scale with an accuracy of 0.01 g (10 mg) to weigh the potassium salt (like this one — not sponsored). 

Would just replacing my regular table salt with potassium salt not suffice? 

Some people replace their regular salt (sodium chloride) more with potassium salt, for example, by using a salt mixture such as LoSalt (not sponsored). 

This is already a good thing. We see in studies that replacing regular table salt with even a small amount of potassium chlorine can reduce stroke risk by 14% and death by 12% (R). 

However, if you want to consume an extra amount of at least 2,000 mg of potassium per day, it will be very difficult to achieve this, given you would need to consume an extra 6 grams of LoSalt, which is way too much to sprinkle on your food. 

That’s why we recommend taking extra potassium salt dissolved in water (see above). 

Of course, you can still combine this with sprinkling potassium salts on your food (keep in mind that 100% potassium chloride tastes very bitter, which is why most people use a mixture of potassium chloride and regular salt, like LoSalt). 

Conclusion 

Potassium is an important mineral for health and longevity.  

This crucial mineral is often ignored by medical doctors, given they just look at potassium levels via a blood test, which are often normal, despite that you can still be deficient or not take optimal amounts of potassium needed for longevity. 

Scientific studies show that adding even a little bit of extra potassium can lead to a significantly lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and general mortality, besides also lowering blood pressure. 

Most people do not consume enough potassium (only around 2,250 mg per day), while it’s advised to take at least 4,700 mg per day. Healthy pre-agricultural diets contain even 7,000 to 15,000 mg of potassium per day. 

Suboptimal intakes of potassium can lead to very common complaints, like muscle aches, tiredness, sleep problems and difficulty concentrating. 

However, increasing your intake of potassium is difficult. Even when consuming healthy potassium-rich foods, it’s not easy to consume a few extra grams of potassium per day. 

Taking potassium supplements is also not recommended, given they contain only 99 mg of potassium per capsule, which is too little. 

That’s why we, besides consuming a potassium-rich diet, recommend taking extra potassium as a powder, dissolved in water. 

Very likely, you will feel better — more relaxed, fewer muscle aches, and better sleep. Some people even claim it improves their hyperactivity and AD(H)D symptoms. 

In general, potassium is crucial for optimal health and longevity, which actually is not that surprising given its function and importance in the human body. 

—–

Important: If you have (severe) kidney problems or are less able to properly process potassium, consult first with an experienced health practitioner. However, when taking only a few grams of potassium salts orally, there is a very low risk of causing too high potassium levels. 

Note: So-called healthy “Himalayan salt” or “pink salt” is still not “healthy” given it still consists of 99% normal salt (sodium chloride).




 

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