Diabetes And Potassium: What’s The Surprising Connection?

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Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBSGeneral Physician, 6+ Years
Published On : 19-May-2022Read Time : 4 minutes
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Potassium! Does that ring a bell? No no! It is not a magic spell. Potassium is the name of a mineral involved in the functioning of all the cells, tissues, and organs of your body. It is found in foods such as bananas and potatoes.

But diabetes and potassium levels? Are they connected? Research suggests so. Let’s find out all about the role of potassium in your body, and how it affects diabetes. 

Contents:
  • Role of Potassium in the Body
  • Link between Diabetes And Low Potassium Levels
  • Symptoms of Low Potassium Levels in Diabetes
  • How to Counteract Low Potassium Levels in the Body?
  • High Potassium Levels in Diabetes
  • Symptoms of High Potassium Levels in Diabetes
  • How to Counteract High Potassium Levels in the Body?
  • Don’t Have Time To Read?
  • When to see a Doctor?
  • FAQs

Role of Potassium in the Body

Potassium is a mineral and an electrolyte (a mineral in your body that carries an electric charge). It maintains the water balance in your body, and helps in nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and heart movements. It also plays a role in maintaining bone health.

It is an essential mineral. Women should consume about 2,600 mg of potassium and men about 3,400 mg of potassium from foods every day to ensure that these vital functions are carried out properly.

Potassium levels in the blood are represented in millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Blood potassium levels between 3.6 and 5.2 mmol/L are normal. Potassium levels below this range represent hypokalemia (low potassium concentration) and levels above this range represent hyperkalemia (high potassium concentration). 

Link Between Diabetes And Low Potassium Levels

Potassium levels are related to both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Let’s see each scenario in detail. 

Low Potassium Levels in Type 2 Diabetes

Potassium is generally stored in the fluid inside cells, but when there is too much glucose outside of the cells (in the blood), potassium moves outside the cell and blood potassium levels rise. Insulin, the hormone responsible for the uptake of glucose from the blood to the cells, tries to move glucose into the cell to restore potassium homeostasis, causing potassium levels to drop (hypokalemia). When your body does not produce enough insulin, does not use it properly, or is insulin resistant, glucose is unable to enter the cells, resulting in a buildup of glucose in the blood. Studies suggest that if your potassium levels are too low, your body may make less of insulin. This could lead to high blood glucose levels and a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. 

Low Potassium Levels in Type 1 Diabetes

Low potassium levels are associated with a complication of Type 1 diabetes, called diabetic ketoacidosis. It is a condition in which your body does not make enough insulin to transport glucose into the cells, so the body uses fat as an energy source. The process of breaking down fat releases ketones (blood acids made in your liver) in the blood. Ketones and glucose are transferred into urine, where the kidneys use water to separate blood from glucose and ketones. This results in dehydration in the body and reduced potassium levels, which leads to worsening of diabetic ketoacidosis. This is why potassium is given in diabetic ketoacidosis treatment.

Symptoms of Low Potassium Levels in Diabetes

  • Muscle cramps and weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness and tingling sensation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Constipation
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Digestive problems

How to Counteract Low Potassium Levels in the Body?

There are two ways to improve the potassium levels in your body:

List of Potassium-Rich Foods For Diabetics

Some potassium-rich foods for diabetics are:
  • Dried apricots
  • Raisins
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Melons
  • Dates
  • Prunes
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Avocado
  • Coconut water
  • Tomatoes
  • Dairy items
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Chicken
  • Salmon

Supplements For Low Potassium in Diabetes

If eating potassium-rich foods does not improve your potassium levels satisfactorily, you may need to consult a doctor and take potassium supplements. Dietary potassium supplements contain potassium chloride, potassium citrate, or potassium phosphate.

High Potassium Levels in Diabetes

High potassium levels often result from kidney damage, which could be due to poorly controlled diabetes. Diabetic nephropathy is a common complication of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

It impairs the functioning of your kidneys, resulting in a rise in potassium levels in your blood. High potassium levels in diabetes can lead to weakness, paralysis, irregular heartbeats, or a heart attack.  

Symptoms of High Potassium Levels in Diabetes

High potassium levels in the body cause the following symptoms:
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness

How to Counteract High Potassium Levels in the Body?

If you suffer from high potassium levels in your body, there are two ways to bring them down:

Dietary Changes

  • Limit or avoid high-potassium foods such as bananas, potatoes, avocados, beans, prunes, and raisins.
  • Limit or avoid high-potassium drinks such as fruit or vegetable juices, coffee, and milk. 
  • Boil foods such as potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and spinach before consumption to reduce the amount of potassium in them.
  • Avoid salt substitutes made from potassium chloride.

Medications

  • Diuretics treat high potassium levels by increasing the flow of water, sodium, and other electrolytes like potassium out of the body. 
  • Potassium binders increase the amount of potassium removed from your body through bowel movements.

When to See a Doctor?

If you are diabetic or at risk for diabetes, and have symptoms associated with either high or low potassium levels in the body, you must consult a doctor at the earliest for a proper diagnosis. 

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that maintains the water balance in your body, and helps in nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and heart movements.
  • Potassium levels are closely linked to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. If your potassium levels are too low, your body may make less insulin. This could lead to high blood glucose levels and a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Low potassium levels are also associated with a complication of Type 1 diabetes, called diabetic ketoacidosis.
  • Low potassium levels in the body cause symptoms like muscle weakness, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, etc.
  • Eat potassium-rich foods including bananas, potatoes, spinach, and oranges to improve potassium levels in the body. You can also consult a doctor and take potassium supplements.
  • Diabetic nephropathy, a common complication of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, can cause high potassium levels in the body.
  • Symptoms of high potassium levels in the body include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. 
  • Avoid or limit high-potassium foods such as bananas and potatoes, and high-potassium drinks such as fruit and vegetable juices if you have uncontrolled potassium levels. Medications such as diuretics and potassium binders can also be used to treat high potassium levels in the body.
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading diabetologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate blood sugar monitoring and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Diabetes Management program which provides ‎360º care. Let's treat diabetes together.

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