What Is the Importance of Potassium for Kids?
Posted on January 23 2022,
Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that is found in several natural foods and also available in the form of dietary supplements. It is the most abundant intracellular cation (positively charged ion) in your body. This mineral is present in almost all of the body tissues and is mandatory for normal functioning because it maintains intracellular electrochemical gradients and fluid volume. It works in combination with sodium to maintain the extracellular fluid volume, including your plasma volume. It is imperative to maintain normal blood potassium levels, which range from 3 to 5 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). (1)
What does potassium do? The human body requires an adequate supply of potassium to maintain the proper functioning of several internal organs, including the kidney, heart, and brain. It is also a crucial mineral that aids in normal nerve transmission and muscle contraction in the body. Potassium is usually used to prevent or treat low potassium levels (hypokalemia) in the blood. The mineral also helps prevent stroke and high blood pressure (hypertension). It is even used in some toothpastes in the form of potassium nitrates to reduce tooth sensitivity. (2)(5)
The daily amount of potassium that your kid needs depends on age and sex. It is primarily found in lentils, fruits, meat, poultry, and vegetables. In cases of deficiency, potassium supplements are also an option for easy intake. It is found in multi-mineral or multivitamin supplements and is typically available in the form of potassium chloride. Many supplements only provide a small amount of this mineral, around 99 mg per serving. Dietary sources are the preferred method to fulfill your child’s nutritional needs. If you suspect that your kid needs more potassium in their diet, you should consult your physician before taking any supplemental forms of potassium. (1)
How Does Potassium Function in Your Child’s Body?
When you think about what’s important for your child’s healthy diet, it’s easy to focus on ‘watch-out' ingredients like fats, sugar, and salt. But what about the nutrients that they may be lacking, such as potassium?
According to the Dietary Guidelines of America, potassium is one of the four nutrients that are commonly deficient in your child’s diet. Potassium performs several important functions in your child’s body, such as aiding in muscle contraction and transporting nutrients to the cells and waste out of the cells. It also plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood pressure in children and ensures that your child’s heartbeat stays normal. (3)
How is potassium absorbed in the body? This mineral is absorbed via passive diffusion in the small intestine of your child. Almost 90 percent of ingested potassium is absorbed in the human body and used in maintaining normal intra- and extracellular fluid concentrations. An excessive amount of this mineral is excreted through sweat, stool, and urine. In response to dietary changes, kidneys control potassium concentration in children. It is important to give 400 to 800 mg of potassium daily to your child to maintain potassium balance in their body. (1)
Why Do Children Need Potassium?
Your children need this mineral because it’s an important electrolyte in their bodies. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), foods high in potassium can help in controlling high blood pressure by reducing the negative effects of sodium. Interestingly, a diet rich in potassium provides several health benefits to your child. Some of them include the following: (4)
- Controls blood pressure and maintains heart health
- Maintains bone and muscle health
- Reduces water retention
- Maintains kidney health
- Protects against stroke
Controls blood pressure and maintains heart health: High blood pressure is very common in Americans. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart diseases that can lead to death. Several studies have revealed that a diet high in potassium can manage blood pressure and remove extra sodium from the human body.
Additional research has concluded that people with high blood pressure who were observed consuming a potassium-rich diet experienced a decrease in diastolic blood pressure by 1.96 mm Hg, and a reduction in systolic blood pressure by 3.49 mm Hg. Thus, it is important to provide an adequate amount of potassium to your children to reduce the risk for hypertension at a later age. (5)
Maintains bone and muscle health: Potassium plays a promising role in maintaining the bone and muscle health in your child. Several studies have demonstrated that children consuming plentiful fruits and vegetables that are rich in potassium have a higher bone mineral density than those who do not. However, further research is needed to determine whether supplemental forms of potassium have the same effects as nutrient rich foods, like fruits and vegetables. Additionally, another study has revealed that potassium is important in preserving muscle mass in old age and in those who have health conditions such as muscle wasting. (5)
Reduces water retention: Water retention occurs when excessive fluid builds up inside the human body. Interestingly, potassium can treat this condition. Several studies have found that high potassium intake decreases water retention in the human body by reducing sodium levels and increasing the production of urine. (6)
Maintains kidney health: In healthy children, low potassium intake interferes with the kidney's ability to reabsorb calcium. This increases the calcium level in the body and can lead to the development of kidney stones. A study from 2015 found that a diet rich in potassium but low in sodium helps reduce the risk of kidney diseases. However, children with any type of kidney problem should not consume high potassium because it may have negative effects. Always consult a pediatrician to determine the right amount of potassium for your child. (6)
Protects against strokes: Strokes kill more than 130,000 Americans each year, and it occurs when there is significantly low blood flow to the brain. A recent study has demonstrated that a diet rich in potassium can help prevent strokes. Scientific research has also demonstrated that children taking high potassium have 24% less risk for the development of a stroke at a later age. Another study depicted that a potassium-rich diet also reduces the risk for heart diseases, such as heart attack and atherosclerosis. (5)
What Is Potassium Deficiency?
Hypokalemia or potassium deficiency is a condition that occurs when your child does not get enough potassium for their body. According to national surveys, around 98% of Americans are not getting enough potassium through their everyday diets. Some common causes of potassium deficiency in children include: (7)
- Poor dietary intake
- Excessive sweating
- Blood loss
Signs that Your Child Lacks Potassium
The common signs and symptoms of potassium deficiency in children include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Muscle spasm and cramps
- Heart palpitation
- Muscle stiffness and aches
- Numbness and tingling
Fatigue and weakness: If your child often complains about weakness and fatigue, then they might be deficient in essential macrominerals, like potassium. There are many ways by which potassium deficiency can cause weakness and fatigue in children. Research has revealed that potassium helps regulate muscle contraction in the human body, so a deficiency of this mineral can result in poor muscle contraction. In addition, the potassium deficiency also affects the way your body uses minerals in ways that lead to fatigue. For example, research has revealed that potassium deficiency can reduce insulin production in the human body that results in high blood sugar levels. A common symptom of high blood sugar is fatigue. (8)
Muscle spasms and cramps: Muscle spasms are uncontrolled or sudden muscle contractions in the body. One study has revealed that muscle spasms are caused by potassium deficiency. Additional research has demonstrated that potassium in muscle cells transmits signals to the brain to initiate muscle contractions. It also helps terminate these contractions by moving out of the cell. Therefore, when the body’s potassium level is low, signals are not transmitted effectively. This condition results in prolonged contractions, known as muscle cramps. (9)
Heart palpitation: Have you ever noticed that your child’s heart beats harder or faster, or is skipping a beat? This condition is known as heart palpitation, which is a common effect of potassium deficiency. This is because potassium moving in and out of heart cells is responsible for regulating the heartbeat. (10)
Muscle stiffness and aches: Muscle stiffness and aches can be a sign of serious potassium deficiency. Potassium levels in the blood regulate the flow of blood in muscles. When potassium levels are inadequate, blood vessels contract and restrict blood flow to the muscles. As a result, muscle cells get less oxygen that can make them weak and rupture, resulting in muscle aches and stiffness. (11)
Numbness and tingling: Scientific research has shown that potassium deficiency in children can also result in numbness and tingling. This condition is known as paresthesia, which is common in the feet, arms, and legs. (12)
How Much Potassium Does Your Kid Need per Day?
Dosing recommendations for potassium is given in the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). DRI is the optimal amount of nutrients that a person needs per day. (1)
It is essential to provide an adequate amount of potassium daily to your children to meet their body’s requirements. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for this mineral is provided in milligrams (mg) below: (1)
|Age||Recommended daily amount in milligrams (mg)|
|0-6 months||400 mg|
|7-12 months||860 mg|
|1-3 years||2000 mg|
|4-8 years||2300 mg|
|9-13 years||2500 mg (males); 2300 mg (females)|
|14-18 years||3000 mg (males); 2300 mg (females)|
|19+ years||3400 mg (males); 2600 mg (females)|
Should You Give Potassium Supplements to Your Kids?
It is not suitable to give potassium supplements to children. This is because a high intake of potassium (hyperkalemia) can cause serious heart problems in children. Potassium requirements in kids should be fulfilled primarily through diet. In case of severe deficiency, supplements might be used after the approval of your child’s pediatrician. (13)
Foods That Are Rich in Potassium
Potassium is majorly found in both animal and plant-based foods. Many fruits, vegetables, potatoes, and legumes are excellent sources of this mineral. Yogurt, meat, fish, nuts, and poultry also contain some potassium. In the United States, potatoes, tea, milk, and coffee are top dietary sources of this mineral in adults. In children, major potassium sources include potatoes, milk, fruits, and fruit juices.
Here are some foods that contain a good amount of potassium: (1)
|Food||Serving size||Milligrams (mg) per serving|
|Dried apricots||1/2 cup||1101 mg|
|Dried prunes||1/2 cup||699 mg|
|Raisins||1/2 cup||618 mg|
|Canned kidney beans||1 cup||607 mg|
|Banana||1 medium||442 mg|
|Raw spinach||2 cups||334 mg|
|Fat-free yogurt||6 ounces||330 mg|
|Grilled beef||3 ounces||315 mg|
|Raw tomato||1 medium||292 mg|
|Cooked broccoli||1/2 cup||229 mg|
|Roasted turkey breast||3 ounces||212 mg|
|Apple||1 medium||195 mg|
|Egg||1 large egg||69 mg|
|White bread||1 slice||37 mg|
Risk and Side Effects of Potassium
In children, high doses of potassium supplements can cause several health complications, including vomiting, stomach cramps, intestinal gas, and diarrhea. The research has revealed that mega doses of potassium are unsafe, as they can lead to mental confusion, feelings of tingling and burning, generalized weakness, and even death.
A study has depicted that taking too many potassium supplements can reduce the kidney’s ability to remove extra potassium through urine. Additional research has demonstrated that untreated hyperkalemia (excess potassium) can also result in cardiac arrest and even death. Thus, it is vital to make sure that you are giving an optimal dose of potassium to your child without overdoing it. It is advised that you consult with a physician before treating any suspected nutritional deficiency in children. (14)
Potassium is an essential electrolyte and mineral that is present in almost all the body tissues of your child. Major dietary sources of this mineral are fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. It performs several important functions in your child’s body, such as regulation of the heartbeat, muscle contraction, and intra and extracellular fluid in the body. On the other hand, deficiency of this mineral can lead to multiple health complications in kids, including fatigue, muscle cramps, weakness, and numbness. In cases of severe deficiency, supplements may be given after the approval of a physician. Dietary sources are the preferred way to fulfill the potassium needs of your child.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not use this information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement and with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.