It is nearly impossible to get an overdose of potassium from natural food sources. However, there are certain groups at risk of developing abnormal high levels of potassium in the blood, like patients with severe kidney damage. They need to follow a potassium-restricted diet. Severe hyperkalaemia can be life threatening because it can cause cardiac arrhythmias, cardiac arrest or muscle weakness. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment reviewed available data on potassium intake in the Netherlands and the potential risk groups for developing hyperkalaemia, commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.

Potassium

Potassium has a beneficial effect on blood pressure levels because it counters the blood raising effect of sodium (NaCl, ‘salt’). Important sources of potassium are fruit and vegetables, potatoes and meat. The average potassium intake in the Netherlands lies just below the recommended daily intake. It is nearly impossible to get an overdose of potassium from natural food sources and the contribution on potassium intake from supplements is small. Almost the entire daily intake of potassium is excreted by the kidneys in healthy individuals.

Risk for hyperkalaemia

There are groups at risk of developing abnormal high levels of potassium in the blood (hyperkalaemia), such as patients with severe kidney damage. They need to monitor the levels of potassium in their blood and they follow a potassium-restricted diet. Other groups could potentially be at risk for developing hyperkalaemia by a combination of factors. For instance, individuals at risk are those who are not aware they have impaired renal function and at the same time take supplemental potassium or use certain medications such as ACE-inhibitors (heart medications) or potassium-sparing diuretics. The magnitude of this risk relative to the current potassium intake in the Netherlands is yet unknown. To answer this question more research is needed.

Potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride

This study was performed in the context of the high salt consumption of people in the Netherlands. To stimulate a healthy diet, the Dutch government has made voluntary agreements with the food industry to contribute to a lower salt intake by decreasing the salt (as sodium chloride) levels in processed foods. One method to reduce the salt content of foods is by using salt substitutes, such as potassium chloride.