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What You Should Know About Insulin And Potassium

What You Should Know About Insulin And Potassium

What is insulin?

Insulin is a natural occurring hormone that is produced by beta cells in the pancreas. This hormone works by helping the body absorb glucose, potassium and other nutrients from the bloodstream. Glucose is a form of sugar which is one of the biggest sources of fuel. Insulin encourages the liver to store glucose in the form of glycogen for future use. In addition, insulin enhances the permeability of body cells to other nutrients such as potassium. Therefore, the presence of insulin encourages the body cells to take in glucose from the bloodstream in addition to potassium, phosphate and magnesium. 

The effect of insulin on potassium is more important clinically. This is because insulin activates sodium potassium ATPases in most body cells, which may lead to increase in absorption of potassium by the cells. 

What is potassium?

Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte which helps to keep your body fluids at an appropriate level. Potassium is an important nutrient for your muscles, heart and nerves. Potassium is responsible for keeping water inside the cells so that they don’t get dehydrated. With the right level of fluid, your body can make sure your heart is beating correctly and your brain is functioning properly. If your body does not maintain proper levels of potassium, you may experience symptoms such as muscle cramps and seizures. You may suffer from low potassium level (hypokalemia) or high potassium level (hyperkalemia).

Usually, the kidney works by excreting excess potassium from the body. It is recommended that you take 4.7 gms of potassium every day. However, even if you are consuming the right amount of potassium, you may still experience high or low levels of potassium. The healthy range of potassium is between 3.6 and 5.2 mmol/L. In case the potassium level is above 5.5 mmol/L, it is considered to be life-threatening.

Possible causes of fluctuating potassium levels include:

  • Kidney problem 
  • Frequent urination
  • Vomiting
  • Using specific medications like insulin drugs 
  • Changes in hormonal levels

A scientific study showed that people who took thiazides to treat high blood pressure experienced a loss of electrolytes like potassium. The research showed that loss of potassium could increase the risk of having diabetes. In case you feel like you are at risk of having diabetes or have a deficiency in potassium, you should visit your doctor. Your doctor may perform blood tests to check if your potassium levels are abnormal. In case the range of your potassium level is not normal, your doctor may recommend a change in your diet or prescribe supplements. 

Insulin and Potassium

Insulin is a hormone which helps to keep potassium levels in the body within the healthy range. When you eat food that is rich in potassium such as fish, the potassium will enter the bloodstream. This will lead to an increase in potassium levels, which stimulates the beta cells to produce the natural hormone insulin. Insulin works by helping potassium get absorbed into the body cells so that it doesn’t build up in the bloodstream. In case there is not enough insulin in the body, potassium levels will rise to abnormal levels. When this happens, your body will produce more insulin to help lower high potassium levels. Patients with diabetes usually have high levels of potassium in their body. People with type 1 diabetes can no longer produce insulin. This is because the insulin producing beta cells has been damaged by the immune system. Without insulin, potassium cannot enter the cells which leads to a build up of potassium in the bloodstream.This leads to high levels of potassium levels in patients with type 1 diabetes, which, if not treated can lead to severe hyperkalemia. 

Hyperkalemia

Causes

Different factors can contribute to high potassium level or hyperkalemia. In case you experience mild hyperkalemia or severe, you need to seek medical attention immediately. This will help you prevent future complications as a result of untreated hyperkalemia. 

  • Kidney failure

Kidney failure is one of the main causes of high potassium level. In case of kidney failure, it will not be able to function properly. Therefore, it cannot excrete excess potassium from the body. This will lead to high potassium levels in the body.

  • Alcohol use

Drinking alcohol can lead to breakdown of muscles. As a result, potassium that is inside the muscle will be released into the blood. This may cause potassium levels to rise.

  • Supplements and medications

When you take too much potassium supplements, it may increase your potassium to dangerous levels. Certain medications such as chemotherapy drugs may cause your potassium level to rise. 

Symptoms of high potassium level

Sometimes you may not experience any symptoms when you have hyperkalemia. If you want to know if you have hyperkalemia, you need to check your potassium levels regularly. In case you have a high potassium level, your doctor will come up with a treatment plan that is tailored for you. In case your potassium levels are extremely high, your doctor may recommend dialysis or prescribe hospitalization. The following symptoms may show when you have extremely high potassium levels: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Irregular heartbeats

Treatment

The main goal of treating high potassium level is to help your body excrete excess potassium. 

  • Medications

Your doctor may prescribe medications such as diuretics and calcium gluconate to help treat your condition. Diuretics will help you urinate more so that you can get rid of excess potassium in your body. Calciun gluconate reduces the effects of potassium to your heart until a normal level of potassium is achieved. 

  • Hemodialysis

Your doctor may prescribe this treatment if you are suffering from high potassium level as a result of kidney failure. 

How to prevent fluctuating potassium levels?

If you are experiencing fluctuating potassium levels, you should target to take 4.7 gms of potassium every day. It is important you keep checking your potassium levels every day so that you can prevent it reaching dangerous levels. The best way to reduce high potassium levels is by reducing the amount of potassium you are consuming. Also, make sure you reduce your intake of processed food. This is because processed foods are not a good source of potassium. If you are not taking enough potassium every day, you can work with your dietitian to come up with an effective diet plan.

You can take the following foods that are rich in potassium:

  • Fish, tuna or salmon
  • Kidney beans
  • Baked potatoes
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Milk
  • Apricots
  • Nuts 

Also, you can take more water to help control your potassium level. If you are dehydrated, it can worsen high potassium levels.  


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Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.
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