Understanding the Balance of Potassium and Sodium in Our Bodies

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    Martha StuartMartha Stuart

    High blood pressure results from many factors, but there’s always one common denominator: excessive salt and an incorrect balance between sodium and potassium. You must understand these two minerals.

    Potassium and sodium are the body’s two major electrolytes, nutrients essential for nerve conduction, energy production, cell integrity, and many other functions of the body. Both conduct electricity. Salt (sodium chloride) dissolves to form the electrolytes sodium and chloride. Pure distilled water does not conduct electricity, but water containing salt does because sodium and chloride are ions, each containing an electric charge.

    Each body cell in every tissue and organ is composed of and bathed in fluid. The fluid both inside and outside the cell contains many materials; most important among them are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and chloride. The intracellular fluid contains more potassium than sodium, so potassium is the predominant electrolyte inside the cell. The fluid bathing the cell contains more sodium than potassium, so sodium is the predominant electrolyte in the extra-cellular fluid. Chloride complements both electrolytes. A deficiency of either sodium or potassium is generally not an issue because we can get all we need from food. However, most people get far too much sodium from food.

    Having the correct balance of potassium and sodium enables cells to carry out their functions. For example, cells that line the stomach must produce acid and digestive enzymes to break down food. The production of these essential factors requires energy. If those cells don’t have the correct potassium sodium balance, they can’t produce those factors. Nerve impulse conduction (which causes you to pull your hand from a hot stove and “tells” your heart to beat) also requires the right ratio of sodium and potassium to function properly. The ratio of potassium to sodium in our body is critical, and when it becomes seriously distorted, the consequences can be life threatening. Inadequate dietary potassium, often resulting from fad diets, has been implicated many times in heart attacks.

    Your body maintains a ratio of about three parts potassium to one part sodium. This ratio facilitates all the many functions that each cell must perform. This ratio is not unique to humans and is found throughout the animal kingdom. In contrast, a much higher ratio of potassium to sodium is found in the plant kingdom, 10 to 20 or more parts potassium to one part sodium. Plants don’t have, among other things, a nervous system and the need to transmit nerve impulses and so require less sodium. This characteristic of plants is to our benefit; making vegetables a substantial part of your diet can help balance excess sodium.


    Shagle Review
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