Dangerous Potassium Supplements? Hack my cramps & twitches please!

by (3277) Updated February 20, 2014 at 1:58 PM Created April 03, 2012 at 2:26 PM

I'm having muscle twitching, foot cramps, and occasional calf cramps. I have periods of tension headaches which I suspect are all related to hydration or electrolytes (potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium).

I already take magnesium & calcium supplements so I doubt it's that. And, I just had a magnesium RBC blood test which showed I was normal for magnesium. (This is the better test which shows intra-cellular magnesium levels, not the regular blood magnesium which can be very inaccurate.) So, I'm crossing magnesium off my suspect list.

Since going paleo a few months ago, I essentially have stopped eating out and cook everything at home. I don't add salt when I cook, and only add it when eating. I recently measured out a tsp of salt (88% RDA sodium) into a clear shaker to measure how much I'm shaking onto food, and it's probably about 30% rda. So, salt could be a culprit. Adding sodium should be hard if I start eating bacon (yum).

It seems like if I work out, then go in the sauna, that makes things worse (which does suggest I'm getting out of balance by lots of sweating).

When using mynetdiary.com to analyze my diet, it seems like I'm not getting 100% potassium each day. Without pigging out on orange juice, bananas, potatoes, etc. I'm not getting enough. I just added 6oz of spinach to a green smoothie: 10oz Greek yogurt, 6oz banana, 1.5oz coconut oil.

I wanted to take potassium supplements to rule that out, but became scared with the dire warnings.

Why is potassium in capsule form capped at (99mg max), but you can shake out as much as you want in Morton's Salt Substitute? In the archives, I see people taking 2 or 3 capsules, but that's like 2% or 3%. How can that make any difference at all?

What's the best trouble-shooting technique to get to the bottom of this?

Any & all tips or suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Thanks, Mike

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1318 · April 04, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Personally, I only get the muscle twitching when I eat too much sodium. The fact that you are having issues after working out is of limited usefulness in trying to diagnose this. The trouble is that you lose a lot of things in your sweat, not just sodium but things like iron, potassium, citrates, to name just a few.

It could be the sodium, it could be something else. I doubt it's the sodium (and the DRI for sodium is too high). You need very little sodium to survive, and if you're getting just under half a teaspoon from added salt, that should be plenty. Remember that many foods contain sodium naturally.

Have you tried taking less calcium? (Hypercalcemia can cause hypertonia, among other things. Me, I get deadly muscle spasms if I don't get enough magnesium.)

Supplements should be the treatment of last resort, especially for such ubiquitous metals like potassium. If your dietary analysis shows that you're not even meeting the DRI for potassium, that's something you should correct.

You say that you only get enough potassium when you "pig out" on potassium-rich foods. If I eat four bananas and 5 medium-sized potatoes in a day, I get well over 5500 mg of potassium. Is that pigging out? Maybe, if you are keeping a lid on your carbohydrate intake or trying to lose weight. If you can't eat those easy potassium sources, then you need to look at other vegetables and/or vegetable juices (unsalted) to make it up.

If you absolutely must supplement, here's an option: order potassium chloride USP from a pharmacy. I sometimes sprinkle some of this on my food if I feel the need to supplement. Warning: it tastes awful.

And if you supplement, be careful. When electrolytes get out of whack, the consequences can be serious. So go slow.

15964 · April 03, 2012 at 3:59 PM

There are some issues with taking potassium supplements for people who are on certain medications or who have kidney problems. It is totally stupid that the FDA does not allow larger doses though. NOW sells potassium powder supplement that allows you to get much more, but I just use the MOrton's. I do a 2:1 mix of potassium to sea salt mix and put it in my water.

(Okay, I guess this was more of an answer than comment:)

1302 · April 03, 2012 at 4:11 PM

My father in-law (a physician/low carb advocate) recommended that I use Mortons Lite Salt (comes in a blue tube) on my food when I got leg cramps. It has potassium and magnesium, which should help.

5476 · April 04, 2012 at 5:42 AM

If you are getting cramps everyday, I'd look at doing something more than just assuming it's a potassium deficiency. Maybe see a doctor just to make sure you're okay.

Your electrolytes can be unbalanced because of drinking too much water as well. I know someone who had to be hospitalized because she drank too much water. So even if you take "adequate" potassium, too much water can flush it out. Water, while amazing, can be too much of a good thing.

I use dulse flakes because it's an easy way to supplement and sneak in potassium in addition to food. Coconut water also is easy to "take down" since it's a liquid and goes down easily for me.

Just be careful. When I was pretty sick and constantly had cramps, I had to get an EKG. I've also known others who have had to be put on an IV drip. Keep an eye on yourself!

19504 · April 03, 2012 at 2:38 PM

Try drinking low sodium v8. It is very high in potasium.

0 · February 20, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Sorry, I misspoke in my previous post - "LOW sodium stimulates aldosterone, which drives potassium down". Aldosterone basically tells kidney to get rid of potassium instead of sodium.

0 · February 20, 2014 at 1:53 PM

How much calcium in relation to magnesium do you take? Calcium stimulates aldosterone production while magnesium blocks it. Sodium also stimulates aldosterone which drives potassium down. So, if I had the same issue, I would try to increase my sodium intake and lower calcium supplements to lower aldosterone. Yes, people can "survive" on low sodium diet, but it is so important to the body that it has a special hormone that regulates its retention. I would also increase potassium intake - so, Norton Light Salt is a great advice. As for magnesium/calcium intake, I would try ratio 1:1 or even 2:1 Magnesium/Calcium (yes, opposite to what you find in all standard, one size fits all supplements). Magnesium tends to increase potassium and calcium acts opposite to it.

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