Potassium is a major mineral and critical electrolyte that is abundantly present in seawater (and sea salt) and soil.
Potassium contains a positive electrical charge and works closely with chloride in regulating blood pressure and PH balance. Potassium is necessary for the heart, kidneys, and other organs to work normally. Potassium allows our muscles to move, our nerves to fire, and our kidneys to filter blood. The right balance of potassium literally allows the heart to beat.
Potassium and Depression
Low potassium levels have been associated with greater risk for mood disturbances and depression. A 2008 study published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” examined the relationship between potassium and mood, and found that a high-potassium diet helped to relieve symptoms of depression and tension among study subjects. These findings suggest both that potassium may be useful in the treatment of mood disturbances and that low potassium levels may be linked to symptoms of depression.
Potassium and Pain
Potassium deficiency can cause irritability, fatigue, muscle weakness, cramps, Restless Leg Syndrome, and chronic pain. Depression often accompanies these symptoms. Depression and pain are intimately intertwined. According to the September 2004 Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Pain is depressing, and depression causes and intensifies pain. People with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms — usually mood or anxiety disorders — and depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain”.
Potassium Helps Regulate Serotonin
A study in the journal “Nature Neuroscience” investigated the role of potassium in the regulation of serotonin, the neurotransmitter primarily targeted by antidepressants. The researchers speculated that potassium channels in the brain may play an important role in serotonin regulation. Potassium appears to act as a facilitator in ensuring the brain’s ability to properly utilize serotonin. Depression is often characterized by negative thoughts such as guilt, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, low self-worth, and suicide. Potassium is required to activate neurons involved in positive thoughts and feelings. Without the electrical charge sparked by potassium, neurotransmitters like serotonin cannot be utilized to make us feel better. This may explain why even a slight decrease in potassium levels can result in significant feelings of anxiety.
What Causes Potassium Deficiency?
Potassium deficiency can be caused by bulimia, chronic diarrhea, diuretics, and Crohn’s disease. One of the biggest causes of potassium deficiency is excessive consumption of cola drinks. This is one of many good reasons to limit cola drinks or, better yet, to not drink them at all.
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that low levels of potassium, caused by hormonal imbalances that contribute to premenstrual syndrome, can lead to depression. In addition, they explain that consuming excessive quantities of caffeine, sodium, and alcohol can contribute to deficiency and lead to depression. Women who have recently given birth also may experience a drop in potassium associated with a decrease in progesterone. This can result in postpartum depression.
How To Increase Potassium in Your Diet
Most people probably associate bananas with potassium and while bananas are a source of potassium, there are better ones. One of the top things on the list is dark green leafy vegetables, especially spinach and chard. White beans are also an excellent source.
Sources of potassium:
Some vitamins and minerals, including potassium, leach out of fruits and vegetables into cooking liquid. So foods that contain significant amounts of potassium, like carrots, potatoes and greens among others, should not be boiled in water with the water thrown away. It is best to steam, bake, grill, broil, sauté, or roast vegetables to maintain more of the nutrients. If vegetables are cooked in water, the water should be consumed rather than discarded, as you would do with soup or stew for instance. You can also save the liquid to use as stock in other dishes.