How much potassium is too much?

If you’re anything like me, your knowledge of potassium stopped at bananas. They were hailed as the savior for athletes and people with cramps alike. And if you had a little too much, that was okay, right? Maybe not.

Potassium is an essential mineral in our diet. It helps regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions and nerve signals sent between your brain and muscles. But how much potassium is too much? Let’s delve into this peeling problem.

Wait A Second…What Do You Mean By ‘Too Much?’

Yes, it seems ridiculous to imagine eating so many bananas that you uncontrollably start singing Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” (I’m talking about B-A-N-A-N-A-S) or sprout leaves from your ears but bear with me. Consuming too much potassium can be dangerous for certain individuals such as those who have kidney disease or heart conditions.

This article will help us determine what causes high levels of potassium in the blood—which leads to hyperkalemia—and what are some common underlying factors behind high dietary intakes which could result in adverse effects.

Understanding High Levels Of Potassium In The Blood

In order to avoid hyperkalemia we must understand the following:

Kidneys: What Are Those For Again?

Our kidneys play a vital role in controlling our body’s electrolyte balance—including blood-potassium regulation—and removing excess waste from our system through urine excretion.

Kidney diseases may affect this process causing impaired filtration leading to abnormal electrolyte levels particularly after meals where large amounts of dietary intake are present1.

Additionally medications including ACE inhibitors used for hypertension management may also alter renal function impairing normal handling of dietary intake leading to accumulation2.

Heart Conditions Anyone?

Hyperkalemia is a common complication seen in heart failure patients who are on medication for their condition.

Some types of commonly used medications such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors and diuretics may directly inhibit normal body mechanisms managing potassium levels such as the renin-angiotensin system found in our kidneys3.

What Are The Symptoms Of Hyperkalemia?

The following symptoms may indicate high levels of potassium:

  • Chest pain. Don’t confuse this with nostalgia for that pop group from the nineties.
  • Abdominal cramping or bloating (like those feelings you get when you realise tax season has crept up on you).
  • Nausea and/or vomiting (just like your last karaoke experience after one too many bananas).
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis—no comment about exercise; we’ll keep it classy here.

It’s important to note these symptoms don’t always correlate 1:1 with potassium excesses bringing us to our next point: how much is too much?

How Much Potassium Is Too Much?

Excess intake through dietary means[This absolutely does not include injecting yourself with large amounts of concentrated liquid solutions], can cause an acute rise in serum-potassium levels reaching over 5 millimoles per litre
which falls under ‘high’ classification4.

However some people can tolerate higher than recommended intakes without any adverse effects whereas others might be susceptible to hyperkalemia at lower limits due to underlying conditions mentioned earlier.

To give perspective a medium baked potato provides around 610mg[space] Image while daily recommendations are approximatley 4700 mg according to USDA(Figure 1).

But who eats just a small plain potato? [Have you ever heard of loaded fries?]

Some foods notorious for high potassium levels include:

Food Amount Of Potassium
Spinach, Cooked or boiled 840mg/100g
Dried Apricots 1620mg/100g
Bran Flakes, All-Bran® 1185mg/cup
Molasses 816 mg/tbsp

What Happens If We Consume Too Much?

The natural question follows: what happens if we overdo it on potassium? Do I turn into the Incredible Hulk?

As previously noted the body has regulatory mechanisms that can balance intake to prevent higher-than-normal elevations in blood potassium.

However as mentioned earlier existing health conditions and/or medications may further disrupt these homeostatic balances thus causing increased cardiovascular risk due to cardiac arrhythmias2.

While acute hyperkalemia is uncommon (think experienced only during one-off binge sessions), prolonged excessive intakes could lead to long term sublethal dysfunction such as abnormal resting heart rates leading to hospitalization5.

So while heavy consumption may not always have immediate noticeable symptoms the risks could turn out ‘a-peeling’ after all.

Can One Consume Too Little Potassium?

On this note too little dietary intake—typically found in highly processed diets or severe nutrient deficiencies—can also pose problems like muscle cramping making you think why didn’t I get those bananas again?! So it’s recommended we keep our daily servings regulated. It’s all about balance folks!

Final Thoughts

Let’s conclude with some food for thought. While bananas are often cited—and deserve credit for their appeals—the most important takeaway here should be moderation and understanding of your own cellular situations.

Potassium continues to be essential in our diets but efforts to prevent hyperkalemia should be practised if under certain conditions.

Understanding the needs specific to our own bodies and maintaining a healthy balanced diet which includes a portion of potassium-rich foods on the daily plate can go a long way. As for me, I’ll stick with my coffee mug filled with…green tea (now that sounds like a catchy tune).

Stay safe and stay healthy y’all.


  1. Weir MR. Potassium homeostasis: implications for management of cardiovascular disease
  2. Barbieri A, Benvenuto D, Capitani M et al.. Hyperkalemia Risk Factors Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis: A Pooled Analysis of observational studies0.
  3. Montenegro L., Podlich D., Bugert P et al.. Angiotensin II AT(1) Receptor Blockade Ameliorates Cardiac Fibrosis in Renovascular Hypertension 0.
  4. Maroon JC & Kenyon JP.Jr Hyperkalemia in athletes Sports Med..
    5.Directions Research Group Inc.& Isenor J.& Shaffer S.& Redmond W.Dietary Sodium-Potassium Ratio as an Attainable Target to Improve Blood Pressure Among Canadians: Measures from >12,000 Adults without Cardiovascular Disease From 2012 to2016 Using Canadian Health Food Ambassadors Data8%.

Warning: This article is written with humor as well as scientific information; please consult your physician or health professional for any advice related to your personal medical care!

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