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Other name(s):

KCl, potassium chloride

General description

Potassium is a mineral element. It’s found in nature as a type of salt. It comes as potassium chloride or potassium nitrate. It plays a major role in making nerve signals that are needed for skeletal smooth muscle and heart muscle contractions.

It helps keep blood pressure normal. It’s needed for keeping electrolyte and pH balance. This is the acidity of the blood and other fluids in the body.

Most potassium in our body is found in muscle and lean tissue cells. Potassium is in most foods. It’s easily absorbed by the body.

Potassium salts dissolve in water (water soluble). It’s found in solution as a positively charged particle (cation). Potassium is the major cation inside living cells.

We need potassium to keep the electrochemical balance across cell membranes. This is vital to transmit nerve signals. This leads to skeletal muscle contraction, hormone release, and smooth muscle and heart contraction.

Potassium levels are controlled in the kidneys by a hormone called aldosterone.

Medically valid uses

Foods high in potassium may help manage high blood pressure (hypertension).

A diet full of fruits, vegetables, high-potassium foods, and low-fat dairy foods has been shown to lower blood pressure and calcium excretion. Potassium supplements may be advised for some health conditions. But talk with your healthcare provider before taking potassium supplements.

Unproven claims

There may be benefits that haven't yet been proven through research.

Research in animals shows that potassium may prevent strokes. It may prevent kidney damage due to high blood pressure. But these effects in humans aren’t known.

Recommended intake

There is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for potassium. The daily Adequate Intake (AI) has been set based off the average intake of healthy people. It’s given in milligrams (mg) per day.

Age group

AI (mg/d)

Infants (0 to 6 months)

400 mg

Infants (7 to 12 months)

860 mg

Children (1 to 3 years)

2,000 mg

Children (4 to 8 years)

2,300 mg

Males (9 to 13 years)

2,500 mg

Females (9 to 13 years)

2,300 mg

Males (14 to 18 years)

3,000 mg

Females (14 to 18 years)

2,300 mg

Males (19+ years)

3,400 mg

Females (19+ years)

2,600 mg

Pregnancy (14 to 18 years)

2,600 mg

Pregnancy (19+ years)

2,900 mg

Lactation (14 to 18 years)

2,500 mg

Lactation (19+ years)

2,800 mg

Potassium comes as an oral liquid and tablet.

It’s available in many foods. This is because it’s a main part of living cells. Good sources include vegetables and fruits, such as bananas, potatoes, citrus fruits, and tomatoes. They also include milk and yogurt, and fresh meats. According to the National Institutes of Health, most people in the U.S. don't get enough potassium. Below is the potassium content of some food sources.


Potassium content

Tomato juice (1 cup)

527 mg

Avocado (1/4 cup)

182 mg

Potato, baked with skin (1 potato)

930 mg

Navy beans (1/2 cup, cooked)

354 mg

Prunes, dried (1/4 cup)

319 mg

Cantaloupe, raw (1 cup pieces)

473 mg

Honeydew, raw (1 cup pieces)

388 mg

Banana, raw (1 medium)

452 mg

Milk, skim (8 fluid ounces)

382 mg

Milk, 1% (8 fluid ounces)

366 mg

Yogurt, Greek, plain, nonfat (6 ounces)

240 mg

Apricots, dried (½ cup)

755 mg

Tomato, raw (1 tomato)

292 mg

Orange juice (1 cup)

496 mg

Pear, raw (1 medium)

208 mg

Peach, raw (1 cup)

293 mg

Potassium is lost during cooking. Adding potassium chloride to cooking water may keep it from leaking out into the water. Use a small amount of water when cooking vegetables. Be careful not to overcook vegetables. Steaming foods will help retain potassium levels.

Low potassium levels (hypokalemia) can cause muscle weakness, lethargy, and irregular heart rate (arrhythmia). Low levels make it hard for the nerves to fire signals. This gets in the way of muscle contraction. Other signs of low potassium levels include:

  • Nausea

  • Fragile bones

  • Enlarged adrenal gland (adrenal hypertrophy)

  • Decreased growth rate

  • Weight loss

  • Irrational behavior

Deficiency doesn’t occur under normal conditions. This is because it’s in many foods. But certain issues can lead to potassium deficiency. These include:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea that lasts a long time

  • Water pill (diuretic) use

  • Laxative and steroid abuse

  • Anorexia

  • Chronic starvation

  • Hormone problems

If you’re taking certain water pills, your healthcare provider may give you a potassium supplement. They should closely track your potassium levels.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

High potassium levels (hyperkalemia) are dangerous and can be deadly. Symptoms of too much potassium are similar to signs of low levels. These can include muscle weakness, heart rhythm issues, and cardiac arrest. Cells have trouble responding to nerve impulses with too much potassium. This affects muscle contractions.

High potassium levels can be caused by kidney problems or hormonal imbalances. They can also be due to excess supplement use.

Crushing injuries that cause cell damage and red blood cell hemolysis can cause more potassium to go into the bloodstream. This can cause high levels of potassium. Intense exercise can cause potassium levels to rise. But this often isn’t dangerous.

High potassium levels can cause cardiac arrest. Because of this, supplements often aren’t advised. You shouldn’t take them unless your healthcare provider tells you to.

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should talk with their healthcare provider before taking any supplements.

Some water pills (diuretics) can cause low potassium levels. These medicines are used to lower high blood pressure. They are also used to treat swelling (edema). These medicines increase the amount of potassium lost in the urine. They can cause low levels of potassium. This includes the medicines:

  • Furosemide

  • Bumetanide

  • Chlorothiazide

  • Metolazone

Other types of diuretics decrease the amount of potassium that your kidneys get rid of. They can cause your potassium levels to rise. These are called potassium-sparing diuretics. You shouldn’t take potassium supplements if you take these kinds of medicines. They include amiloride and spironolactone.

Other medicines for blood pressure can cause high potassium levels. These are called angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

If you’re taking a water pill or ACE inhibitor, talk with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements.

Additional information

People may use potassium chloride as a salt replacement when trying to lower their blood pressure. Talk your healthcare provider before you try this.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brittany Poulson MDA RDN CD CDE
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023