Potassium is an essential mineral which is found in foods and supplements in many forms, including potassium bicarbonate, potassium citrate, potassium gluconate, potassium acetate and (particularly in some salt substitutes) as potassium chloride. Potassium is crucial in maintaining water balance as well as proper muscle function, nerve transmissions and healthy heart and kidneys.
Although a balanced diet usually supplies all the potassium a person needs, potassium supplements may be needed by patients who do not have enough potassium in their regular diet or have lost too much potassium because of illness or treatment with certain medicines. Potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) can result from the use of diuretic drugs ("water pills") to treat high blood pressure and can also occur in cases of prolonged vomiting, diarrhea or laxative abuse.
Deficiency can cause muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat, listlessness, mood changes, irrational behavior, nausea, and vomiting. Potassium and sodium work together in the body to maintain muscle tone, blood pressure, water balance, and other functions. Many researchers believe that part of the blood pressure problem caused by too much salt (which contains sodium) is made worse by too little dietary potassium.