I came across this amazing link between potassium and insulin when I was researching root causes of hypertension. I have to admit I never paid much attention to importance of potassium. Magnesium and zinc were my ‘number one’ minerals. However, it turned out that potassium deserves some more attention too and here’s why:
What potassium does in your body
Potassium is known as an electrolyte responsible for muscle contraction and maintaining appropriate heartbeat. It sounds pretty basic and probably that’s why role of potassium is a bit underestimated. When we deep dive into how potassium influences hormones and various processes in the body we will come to the conclusion that potassium is actually pretty big player if it comes to insulin management and metabolic disorders. There is really interesting link betweenpotassium and insulin resistance.
Potassium balance – are sodium and glucose the bad guys?
It’s not even only about overall potassium levels in the body but about potassium balance between inside and outside of the cell and potassium level in relation to sodium. Similar like with hormones, it’s all about ratios. Generally speaking, potassium balance is maintained if we have more potassium inside the cell than outside the cell (blood serum i.e). Plus when the potassium to sodium ratio is at the optimal level. Consuming too much sodium and not enough potassium will deplete your cell potassium. So sodium is not always 100% bad, but it can turn to have negative effect if you consume too much sodium and not enough potassium in your diet. These two minerals are antagonists, similar like zinc and copper. Moreover, high sugar consumption can deplete your potassium levels as well as sugar releases potassium from the cell.
How low potassium can raise your blood sugar levels?
So let’s take a closer look at this. If the cell potassium levels decrease, a hormone angiotensin II is activated. It will raise your blood presure and trigger cortisol release. Cortisol is a stress fight or flight hormone and it raises blood sugar levels. Beta cells (that are dependent on potassium) release insulin to take the glucose from the blood to the cell. Then glucose can be burnt by mitochondria for energy. Everything works well if it’s a temporary situation and there is actual demand on energy or actual danger i.e if we exercise or run from the lion. Glucose is basically your fuel. Everything should be back in balance after we finish working out or running from a lion. However, if we are just sitting and stressing about deadlines, bills to pay or other things all the time, there is constant release of cortisol that raises your blood glucose. Usually, we don’t really need that much of extra glucose and gradullay the whole insulin – cell signaling mechanism can become impaired.
How you can develop insulin resistance: stress and diet
The problem starts if the elevated levels of cortisol became chronic. Our body will produce more and more insulin to take the excess glucose from the blood to the cells. However, if cells don’t need more glucose, they will refuse to take it. At some point, cells will become less and less sensitive to insulin and stop responding to it. Insulin will be produced to remove glucose from the blood. However, cells will stop accepting. Apart from stress, chronically elevated blood sugar levels may be because of too much sugars and carbohydrates in a diet. It could be also because of too frequent eating and eating inappropriate foods. This is one of the main mechanisms behind developing insulin resistance.
What else you should now?
It’s worth to mention that high sugar and carbohydrates diet depletes potassium from the cell too. Glucose triggers potassium release from the cell to the blood. In other words, it causes further loss of potassium. To maintain appropriate insulin metabolism and blood pressure as well, we need more potassium. However, we need more potasssium in the cell, not in the blood. It’s a bit of vicious cycle as low potassium can be contributing factor to developing insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is linked to increased magnesium loss and magnesium is one of the key minerals responsible for cellular uptake of potassium.
So what you can do about it?
- Include potassium rich foods on daily basis. Daily requirement for potassium for average adult is around 4500mg.
- Ensure appropriate intake of potassium when consuming more salt as excess salt depletes potassium
- Reduce stress
- Control your blood sugar through appropriate diet and lifestyle.
- Take into account increased potassium loss with sweat during exercise. Apparently we are losing around 50 mcg of iodine and 250mg of potassium during 1h of intense training.
Potassium rich foods:
- Sun-dried tomatoes (100g) – 1560mg
- Beet greens (cooked, 1 cup) 1300mg
- Avocado (1 medium)
- Salmon (6oz filet) 1060mg
- Swiss Chard (cooked, 1 cup) 960mg
- Lima/butter beans (cooked, 1 cup) 950mg
- Potatoes (1 medium) 920mg
- Spinach (cooked, 1 cup) 839mg
- Navy beans (cooked, 1 cup) 700mg
- White button mushrooms (cooked, 1 cup) 550mg
- Kiwi (1 cup) 560mg
- Coconut water (1 cup) 500mg
- Sweet potatoes (mashed, 1 cup) 500mg
- Banana (1medium) 420mg
If you are not big fan of beet greens i.e or struggle to fit enough potassium in your regular meals, making a smoothie can be a good alternative to smuggle more of potassium rich fruits & veggies:)
Maintaing optimal potassium levels is one of the things you can do to control your blood sugar and insulin. Keep in mind that your potassium requirements increase if you exercise, consume lots of sugars or sodium. At the end of the day it’s all about balance:)