Potassium is one of the seven essential macrominerals. The human body needs potassium to support key processes.

Potassium plays a role in the function of the kidneys, the heart, the muscles, and the transmission of messages through the nervous system.

Below, we investigate how much potassium a person needs per day. We also explore the nutrient’s functions in the body, good sources of potassium, and the effects of consuming too much or too little.

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An adequate intake of potassium is 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day for healthy adult males and 2,600 mg per day for healthy adult females.

The table below shows specific recommendations for different age groups.

AgeMaleFemale
0–6 months400 mg/day400 mg/day
7–12 months860 mg/day860 mg/day
1–3 years2,000 mg/day2,000 mg/day
4–8 years2,300 mg/day2,300 mg/day
9–13 years2,500 mg/day2,300 mg/day
14–18 years3,000 mg/day2,300 mg/day
19+ years3,400 mg/day2,600 mg/day

The adequate intake during pregnancy is 2,900 mg, and it is 2,800 mg while breastfeeding or chestfeeding.

A person should aim to get their potassium from a healthy, balanced diet that provides a range of vitamins and minerals. In some circumstances, a doctor may recommend supplements.

Potassium is an electrolyte that the body needs to stay healthy. As the American Heart Association (AHA) note, foods that contain potassium can help manage blood pressure by reducing the negative impact of sodium.

Having high sodium levels can increase the risk of high blood pressure. In healthy people, potassium lowers this risk by helping the body remove sodium. It also helps manage blood pressure by relaxing the walls of the blood vessels.

Blood pressure and cardiovascular health

An adequate potassium intake may prevent or manage high blood pressure.

And if a person has a high potassium intake and a low sodium intake, this may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Bone and muscle maintenance

Potassium may play a role in bone health. Studies have suggested that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables that contain potassium may have higher bone mineral density.

However, confirming this will require more research. If the finding is true, researchers will also need to discover the reason behind it and whether supplements have the same effect.

A diet high in potassium may also help preserve muscle mass in older people and people who have health conditions that lead to muscle wasting.

Kidney health

In healthy individuals, low potassium levels may inhibit the kidneys’ ability to reabsorb calcium. High calcium levels in the kidneys can result in kidney stones.

Research from 2015 notes that switching to the DASH diet may help reduce the risk of kidney stones, as the diet favors foods that are rich in potassium and other essential nutrients.

However, people with kidney failure should not consume too much potassium, as it could have a negative impact. In this case, a doctor will recommend how much potassium to include in the diet.

Potassium is present in many plant-based foods, but processing reduces the levels of this nutrient. Anyone with a diet high in processed foods may have a low potassium intake.

Many processed foods are also high in sodium, so a person with a highly processed diet may need to increase their potassium intake accordingly.

Overall, dried fruits and pulses are good sources of potassium. The table below shows specific amounts in 1 serving of various potassium-rich foods.

Food typeAmount of potassium (mg)Percentage of Daily Value
A half-cup of dried apricots1,10123%
1 cup of cooked lentils73116%
A half-cup of dried prunes69915%
1 cup of mashed acorn squash64414%
A medium baked potato, no skin61013%
1 cup of canned kidney beans60713%
1 cup of orange juice49611%
A half-cup of boiled soy beans4439%
A medium banana4229%
1 cup of 1% milk3668%

In most cases, a healthy diet provides enough potassium, especially if the diet is low in sodium.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend supplements. There is some evidence that these may help:

  • manage blood pressure
  • prevent stroke
  • prevent kidney stones
  • boost bone health
  • manage blood glucose levels

However, confirming that potassium supplements can help treat or prevent these health issues will require more research.

Ask a doctor before using potassium supplements. This is especially important for people who have kidney disease or are also taking other medications.

A potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia, can lead to various health problems, including:

  • high blood pressure
  • a risk of kidney stones
  • low calcium levels in the bones

For an otherwise healthy person, a deficiency involves having potassium levels lower than 3.6 millimoles per liter (mmol/l) of blood serum. This cutoff point is lower for people with kidney disease.

A person with a mild potassium deficiency may experience:

  • constipation
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • a general feeling of being unwell, or “malaise”

If potassium levels fall below 2.5 mmol/l in an otherwise healthy person, doctors consider this to be a moderate to severe deficiency. It can lead to:

  • a high urine production
  • glucose intolerance
  • muscular paralysis
  • breathing problems
  • changes in heart rhythm, in people with heart disease
  • confusion, in people with kidney disease

A severe deficiency can be life threatening because it can affect the heart.

Learn more about potassium deficiencies here.

A person can typically tolerate high levels of potassium, which the kidneys remove.

However, excess potassium, or hyperkalemia, can be harmful for people with kidney problems if their kidneys are unable to remove enough potassium. This can be dangerous if the levels rise quickly.

Doctors consider potassium levels to be high when they reach 5.1 to 6.0 mmol/l of blood serum. In this case, professional monitoring is key, and any level higher than 6.0 mmol/l needs immediate attention.

People with hyperkalemia may have no or very few symptoms. If symptoms appear, they are similar to those of hypokalemia.

Severe or sudden hyperkalemia can cause:

  • heart palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain

At this stage, the issue can be life threatening and require immediate medical attention.

Learn more about hyperkalemia’s effects on the body.

Anyone taking medication should not increase their potassium intake before discussing it with a doctor, as some drugs can interact with potassium.

For example, drugs called angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers can stop the body from removing potassium. These medications are sometimes called ACE inhibitors and ARBs, respectively. Examples include benazepril (Lotensin) and losartan (Cozaar).

A person who takes either type of drug and has kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease may develop potassium levels that are too high.

Potassium-sparing diuretics prevent the body from excreting potassium in the urine. If a person takes one of these drugs, a doctor will monitor their potassium levels. Examples include amiloride (Midamor) and spironolactone (Aldactone).

Loop and thiazide diuretics cause the body to lose potassium by increasing urine output. This can lead to low potassium levels. Examples include furosemide (Lasix) and bumetanide (Bumex).

A person taking any of these drugs may need to avoid high-potassium foods. Learn more here.

Potassium is an essential mineral. Dried fruits, beans, and other plant-based foods can be good sources of it.

The mineral helps maintain the health of the kidneys, bones, and cardiovascular system, and it may help manage blood pressure.

A high potassium intake is not healthy for a person with kidney disease. A doctor will advise anyone with kidney problems about how much potassium to consume.

The best way to take in potassium is through a healthy diet. If anyone has concerns about their potassium levels, they should speak to their doctor.