Having low potassium may contribute to developing diabetes. However, if you have diabetes, taking potassium won’t cure it.

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There may be a link between diabetes and potassium levels.

Usually, your body processes the food you eat and turns it into a sugar called glucose. Your body uses glucose for energy. Your body uses insulin (a hormone that your pancreas produces) to help move glucose into cells throughout your body. If you have diabetes, your body is unable to produce or use insulin efficiently.

Type 1 diabetes isn’t preventable, but you can possibly prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes, usually occurs in people ages 35 and older.

Potassium is an electrolyte and mineral that helps keep your bodily fluids at the proper level. If your fluids are at this proper level, your body can do the following:

  • contract your muscles without pain
  • keep your heart beating correctly
  • keep your brain functioning at its highest capability

If you don’t maintain the right level of potassium, you can experience a variety of symptoms that can include:

  • fatigue
  • muscle spasms
  • muscle weakness and cramping
  • irregular heart rate
  • constipation
  • nausea or vomiting
  • seizure

According to recent research, there may be a link between type 2 diabetes and low potassium levels.

Although people recognize that potassium affects diabetes, research is ongoing to determine why this may happen.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements, potassium plays a role in insulin production in the pancreas. Low potassium levels, or hypokalemia, can negatively affect insulin secretion. This may lead to glucose intolerance.

While this can occur in healthy individuals, the NIH notes that it has been observed more often in people who have used diuretics, specifically those containing thiazide, for a long period of time and in those who have hyperaldosteronism. Both can increase the amount of potassium lost through urine.

The NIH also notes that more research is needed to confirm a link between potassium levels and the development of type 2 diabetes.

A 2017 review of literature looked at studies that measured potassium levels and type 2 diabetes risk. The researchers found that low serum potassium — potassium levels in the blood — appeared to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, especially in younger people.

However, they didn’t find a link between type 2 diabetes and dietary potassium (potassium intake) or urinary potassium (the amount excreted in urine).

Even though low potassium may increase your risk of developing diabetes, taking potassium won’t cure your diabetes.

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people ages 14 to 18 should consume 3,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day. People ages 18 and older should consume 3,400 mg of potassium per day.

Even if you’re getting as much potassium as you need, your levels may still become too high or low.

This can happen for a number of reasons, including a change in your sodium levels. When sodium levels rise, potassium levels tend to go down, and vice versa.

Other possibilities may include:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • kidney problems
  • an improper blood pH
  • changing hormone levels
  • frequent urination
  • taking certain medications, especially cancer medications

Certain diabetes medications can affect your potassium levels. For example, if you take insulin and haven’t maintained control of your diabetes, your potassium levels may dip.

If you think that you’re at risk for diabetes or that you may have a potassium deficiency, talk with a doctor. They can look over your medical history and discuss your potential risk.

A doctor may see how much potassium is in your blood by doing a blood test. If the test shows that your potassium levels are too low, the doctor may prescribe a supplement or recommend certain dietary changes to restore the balance.

You should strive to consume the daily recommended intake of potassium every day to keep your potassium in check.

You can do this by monitoring your daily intake using a food journal and actively researching how much potassium is in the foods you eat. A doctor can help determine how much potassium is healthy for you to consume.

People with certain health conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, and people taking medications like angiotensin-converting enzymes (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) may be at a risk for high potassium levels.

Some sources of potassium include:

  • baked potatoes, including baked sweet potatoes
  • plain yogurt
  • kidney beans
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • fruits, such as bananas, avocados, and peaches
  • fish, such as salmon, tuna, and cod

You may want to limit your intake of processed foods because they’re a poor source of potassium and other nutrients.

If you work out regularly and sweat a lot, consider adding a post-workout banana smoothie to your routine. This can replenish some of the potassium lost in your sweat and help balance your body’s electrolyte levels.

If you feel as though you aren’t getting enough potassium, make an appointment with a doctor. They can work with you to develop the best course of action.

With some monitoring and advanced planning in your diet, you can control your potassium levels and help prevent diabetes.