Medical News Today: Why even slim people may benefit from calorie restriction

Even slim people may benefit from restricting their calories; reducing daily calorie intake by around 300 per day can significantly improve markers of cardiometabolic health.
green lettuce on a plate
Restricting our calorie intake may yield signficant benefits regardless of our weight.

This is the main takeaway of a randomized controlled trial that lasted for 2 years and included 218 people, ages 21–50, without obesity.

Dr. William E. Kraus — a cardiologist and distinguished professor of medicine at Duke University in Durham, NC — is the lead author of the new study.

Dr. Kraus and colleagues explain in their paper that some cardiometabolic markers — such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar — can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular death even when they are within ranges that healthcare professionals consider to be normal.

On the other hand, numerous studies have suggested that calorie restriction benefits both a person’s health span and life span. However, are these benefits due to weight loss?

The researchers started their new study from the hypothesis that it isn’t just losing weight, but also some other, more complex molecular mechanism that explains the benefits of calorie restriction for cardiometabolic health.

So, they set out to test their hypothesis, and they have since published their findings in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

How caloric restriction aids metabolic health

All the trial participants had an average body mass index (BMI) of between 22 and 27.9. To begin, the researchers randomly assigned them to one of two groups: one group reduced their caloric intake by 25% (the intervention group), and the other group did not change their caloric intake (the control group).

The participants in the intervention group ate three meals per day and were free to choose from six different meal plans. They also “attended group and individual counseling sessions for the first 6 months of the trial.” The study started in May 2007 and continued through to February 2010.

During this time, the remaining participants — those in the control group — continued to follow their regular diet.

Not all the participants in the intervention group managed to maintain a 25% calorie reduction throughout the study period, but they did reduce their intake by almost 12%, on average.

After the intervention, the participants in this group lost and maintained the loss of 10% of their weight — 71% of which was fat mass. The calorie restriction resulted in significant cardiometabolic benefits.

Specifically, “Calorie restriction caused a persistent and significant reduction from baseline to 2 years of all measured conventional cardiometabolic risk factors,” write the authors. This included changes in low density lipoprotein cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Also, “calorie restriction resulted in a significant improvement at 2 years in C-reactive protein.” This is a marker of inflammation that scientists have linked to heart disease, cancer, and cognitive decline. Insulin sensitivity and markers of metabolic syndrome also improved.

The benefits remained robust after Dr. Kraus and team conducted a sensitivity analysis that adjusted the results for relative weight loss.

This shows that even a modification that is not as severe as what we used in this study could reduce the burden of diabetes and cardiovascular disease that we have in [the United States].”

Dr. William E. Kraus

“People can do this fairly easily by simply watching their little indiscretions here and there, or maybe reducing the amount of them, like not snacking after dinner.”

“There’s something about caloric restriction, some mechanism we don’t yet understand that results in these improvements,” he adds. “We have collected blood, muscle, and other samples from these participants and will continue to explore what this metabolic signal or magic molecule might be.”

In an interview for The Lancet‘s podcast, Dr. Kraus said that this was the first long term study to examine the benefits of caloric restriction in humans.

Dr. Kraus also makes it clear that his study examined biomarkers for a person’s health span, and he says that he and his colleagues were “impressed” by the “dramatic” improvements and “remarkably” positive effects that caloric restriction had on waist circumference, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, glucose control, and blood pressure.

Medical News Today: Could the common cold ‘revolutionize’ bladder cancer treatment?

Current treatment for some forms of cancer does not work as well as researchers had initially hoped. But a new virus-based treatment has shown promising results.
woman sneezing
New research suggests that the common cold virus can help scientists devise the next treatment for a widespread form of bladder cancer.

Using viruses to treat cancer has long been of interest to medical researchers. One type of virus in particular — oncolytic viruses — can kill tumor cells.

But so far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved one of these: a genetically modified form of herpes to treat melanoma.

The reason that viruses can target tumors is pretty simple. Cancerous tumors are invisible to the immune system, allowing them to grow and spread.

But when a virus enters a cancerous cell and replicates itself, this allows the cancer to be seen, prompting the immune system to treat the disease as it would a common cold.

Melanoma is not the only type of cancer that viruses can affect. Researchers have recently tested a similar treatment on brain tumors.

A new study has found promising results in a form of bladder cancer.

Researchers, many of whom are from the University of Surrey, in the United Kingdom, have investigated the impact of a strain of the common cold virus on non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC). Their findings appear in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Current bladder cancer treatments

Bladder cancer is the seventh most common cancer among males and the seventeenth most common among females. Between 70% and 80% of bladder cancer diagnoses fall into the NMIBC category at the time of diagnosis.

“[NMIBC] is a highly prevalent illness that requires an intrusive and often lengthy treatment plan,” says Hardev Pandha, Ph.D., lead study investigator and a professor of medical oncology at the University of Surrey.

“Current treatment is ineffective and toxic in a proportion of patients, and there is an urgent need for new therapies,” he explains.

One treatment that removes any visible tumors has a high tumor recurrence rate (between 50% and 70%) and a high progression rate (between 10% and 20%) over the course of 2–5 years.

Immunotherapy is another option, but this has no effect on one-third of patients and can cause serious side effects in another third.

Replicate and attack

For the present study, the U.K.-based team decided to look to a strain of the common cold called coxsackievirus, or CVA21, for short.

The researchers gave 15 patients who had been diagnosed with NMIBC a dose of CVA21 one week before surgery to remove their tumors.

Nine received the CVA21 alone, via a catheter into the bladder, while the final six received CVA21 combined with a low dose of a chemotherapy drug called mitomycin C.

Each patient gave urine samples on alternate days and the researchers obtained tissue samples after the surgery.

The urine samples showed that the virus was able to copy itself and attack and kill cancer cells in the majority of patients. The tissue samples indicated that the virus was only successful in attacking cancerous cells, rather than healthy ones.

“Reduction of tumor burden and increased cancer cell death was observed in all patients,” Prof. Pandha notes. The researchers believe that the virus was able to inflame the bladder tumor, kickstarting the work of the immune system.

What was most surprising was that, during surgery, one patient exhibited no sign of NMIBC. An additional positive result was that “No significant side effects were observed in any patient.”

The study may have only used a small number of participants, but its results could pave the way for future research into the CVA21 virus and cancer.

According to Prof. Pandha, the common cold strain “could help revolutionize treatment for this type of cancer.”

Nicole Annels, Ph.D., who is the first author of the paper and a research fellow at the University of Surrey, adds that “Oncolytic viruses such as the coxsackievirus could transform the way we treat cancer” overall.

She notes that the therapy could even “signal a move away from more established treatments such as chemotherapy.”

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Medical News Today: Researchers devise a more ‘child-friendly’ test for autism

The current methods of diagnosing autism in children use questionnaires and psychologist evaluations. However, these methods can be stressful for those at a young age. New research now suggests an easy, more stress-free test that simply tracks the gaze.
child looking at a computer screen
Researchers have devised a new, less stressful method of diagnosing autism based on ‘how a child looks at everything.’

“The current approaches to determining if someone has autism are not really child-friendly,” notes Mehrshad Sadria, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Sadria and colleagues have been busy looking for an alternative means of diagnosing autism — which specialists refer to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) — early on in life.

An early diagnosis, the researchers explain, could help individuals identify methods of coping with symptoms that could affect their well-being from a young age, and this could ensure a better quality of life going forward.

“Our method allows for the diagnosis to be made more easily and with less possibility of mistakes. The new technique can be used in all ASD diagnosis, but we believe it’s particularly effective for children,” Sadria adds.

The researchers explain how they screened for a better diagnostic method and what this method entails in a study paper that appears in the journal Computers in Biology and Medicine.

The importance of a tell-tale gaze

In their paper, the researchers note that they conceived a new type of diagnostic method based on certain aspects that appear to be typical of autistic individuals. More specifically, autistic people appear to evaluate other people’s faces in a very distinctive manner.

“[T]he overt attention with which individuals with ASD orient and direct to faces, as well as the manners by which they visually explore faces and interpret gaze information, appears to exhibit characteristics distinct from [typical development] individuals,” the study authors write.

Starting from this premise, the investigators believed that they could use this specific mode of face evaluation to screen for autism traits early on.

To both develop this novel diagnostic method and find out exactly how autistic children might look at faces differently compared with neurotypical peers, the researchers worked with a group of 17 autistic children (with an average age of 5.5 years) and 23 neurotypical children (with an average age of 4.7 years).

“All parents or legal guardians provided their written informed consent [for the children] to participate in the study in accordance with the principles explained in the Declaration of Helsinki,” the authors note in their paper.

The team showed each child 44 photographs featuring different faces, each of which they displayed on a 19-inch screen that they had connected to an eye tracking system. This specialized system was able to locate where each child’s gaze went first and to which points of the face their gaze then traveled.

The investigators focused on seven key areas of interest that a child’s gaze might fix on when studying a face on a screen. These were: under the right eye, on the right eye, under the left eye, on the left eye, on the nose, on the mouth, and on other parts of the screen.

The researchers note that compared with neurotypical children, the autistic children who took part in this study spent a lot more time studying the mouth and significantly less time looking at the eyes.

Moreover, the team was able to come up with four different ways of assessing the gaze typical of an autistic child. They found it useful to look at:

  • the number of areas of interest on a face that the child looked to and from
  • how often the child’s gaze glossed over a third area of interest when looking from one area of interest to another
  • how quickly they looked from one area of interest to another
  • how important one area of interest seemed to be in their assessment of the face, judging by how often they gazed in its direction

‘It’s about how a child looks at everything’

The investigators argue that as a method of assessing for autism traits, a “gaze test” would be much less stressful for a young child than the current diagnostic preferences.

“It is much easier for children to just look at something, like the animated face of a dog, than to fill out a questionnaire or be evaluated by a psychologist,” says study co-author Prof. Anita Layton, who supervises Sadria’s work as a master’s student.

“Also, the challenge many psychologists face is that sometimes behaviors deteriorate over time, so the child might not display signs of autism, but then a few years later, something starts showing up,” Prof. Layton adds. This new diagnostic method, the researcher argues, is more reliable than traditional tests.

Our technique is not just about behavior or whether a child is focusing on the mouth or eyes. It’s about how a child looks at everything.”

Prof. Anita Layton

Medical News Today: What to know about guanfacine for the treatment of ADHD

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Medical News Today: Brain structure may play key role in psychosis

New research finds that having a larger choroid plexus, which is a vital brain structure, could be involved in psychosis.
brain illustration
Research finds clues about psychosis in a brain structure that scientists have not yet fully studied.

Variations in the structure of the choroid plexus, which produces cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), could play a key role in psychosis.

A team that Dr. Paulo Lizano — of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA — led has now investigated this vital structure.

In doing so, they found that there could be a link between its size and the development of psychosis.

The choroid plexus and its product, CSF, are crucial parts of the neurological system. CSF helps cushion the brain within the skull, and the choroid plexus forms a barrier between the brain and the CFS, which helps filter out toxins and keeps blood components from entering the brain.

It also allows some molecules to pass through, including those involved with the immune system.

This study — which now appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry — involved three groups of people: participants with a diagnosis of psychosis, one of their first degree relatives, and people with no history of psychosis (the controls).

Each participant underwent a structural MRI brain scan, and the researchers found that the volume of the choroid plexus was larger in those who had psychosis.

They also found that the volume of the choroid plexus among first degree relatives was larger than that of the controls but smaller than that of those with psychosis.

Additional findings

However, these were not the only significant findings from the group with psychosis.

The researchers also found that larger choroid plexus volume correlated with reduced gray matter, smaller amygdala volume, lower cognitive scores, larger ventricle volume, and lower levels of neural connectivity.

Although they cannot yet say with certainty, the researchers believe that these findings could also offer clues as to the pathology of psychosis.

The team also found that people with an enlarged choroid plexus had high levels of a signaling cell associated with the immune system, called interleukin 6 (IL-6).

IL-6 can cross the barriers between the brain, blood, and CSF. The results are noteworthy; the team explains that people who have schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often have higher levels of IL-6. Dr. Lizano and colleagues conclude:

Our findings suggest the involvement of the choroid plexus across the psychosis spectrum, with a potential mechanism involving the neuro-immune system, which functions in regulating the brain and interacting with the body’s immune and inflammatory systems.”

What is psychosis?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, psychosis refers to a group of conditions that affect the mind when someone experiences a “loss of contact with reality.”

During a psychotic episode, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed. They may find it difficult to understand what is real and what is not.

Some symptoms of psychosis include:

  • delusions, or false beliefs
  • hallucinations, such as seeing or hearing things that others do not
  • incoherent speech
  • inappropriate behavior

Experts say that there is no single cause of psychosis. It can be a symptom of a mental health condition such as schizophrenia. There are also several other potential causes, including some medical conditions, drug and alcohol use, certain prescription medications, and sleep deprivation.

There were some scientific discussions in the 1920s about the possible role of the choroid plexus in schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, there had not been much specific research on the topic before this study.

Although much more research is still necessary, this study suggests that there is probably a link between an enlarged choroid plexus and psychosis.

Medical News Today: New research may explain why evolution made humans ‘fat’

Scientists have compared fat samples from humans and other primates and found that changes in DNA packaging affected how the human body processes fat.
close up of hand drawing evolution of humans from primates
Evolution made humans the ‘fat primate,’ researchers suggest.

Our bodies need fat to store energy and protect vital organs.

Fat also helps the body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones.

Dietary fats include saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats, all of which have different properties.

People should try to avoid or only consume saturated and trans fats in moderation because they raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, however, can lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. They store excess energy from the food we eat. During digestion, our bodies break these down and transfer them to the cells via the bloodstream. Our bodies use some of this fat as energy and store the rest inside the cells.

Fat metabolism is key to human survival, and any imbalances in the process can lead to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that almost 18 million people died from the condition in 2016.

How humans became the ‘fat’ primate

Modern eating habits and a lack of exercise have contributed to the obesity “epidemic,” but new research highlights the role that evolution played in the increasing formation of human body fat.

The scientists found that changes to how DNA is packaged inside fat cells reduced the human body’s ability to turn “bad” fat into “good” fat. The results of the research now appear in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution.

“We’re the fat primates,” says study co-author Devi Swain-Lenz, a postdoctoral associate in biology at Duke University in Durham, NC.

The researchers — who Swain-Lenz and Duke biologist Greg Wray led — compared fat samples from humans, chimps, and other primates using a technique called ATAC-seq. This analyzes how fat cell DNA is packaged in the bodies of different species.

The findings revealed that humans have anywhere from 14% to 31% body fat, while other primates have less than 9%. Also, DNA regions in humans are more condensed, thereby limiting accessibility to the genes involved in fat metabolism.

The researchers also found that around 780 DNA regions were more accessible in chimps and macaques compared with humans. This means that the human body has a reduced capacity to transform bad fat into good fat.

Not all fat is the same

Swain-Lenz explains that most fat is made up of “calorie-storing white fat.” This is the type of fat that accumulates on our bellies and around our waistlines. Other fat cells, called beige and brown fat, help burn calories.

The results of this new study revealed that one of the reasons humans carry more fat is because the DNA regions that should help convert white fat into brown fat are compressed and do not allow this transformation to take place.

“It’s still possible to activate the body’s limited brown fat by doing things like exposing people to cold temperatures, but we need to work for it,” Swain-Lenz adds.

The team believes that early humans may have needed to accumulate fat not just to protect vital organs and warm up, but also to nurture their growing brains. In fact, the human brain tripled in size during evolution, and it now uses more energy than any other organ.

Scientists have been working to understand if promoting the body’s ability to convert white fat to brown fat could reduce obesity, but more research is necessary.

“Maybe we could figure out a group of genes that we need to turn on or off, but we’re still very far from that,” Swain-Lenz concludes.

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Medical News Today: Does body weight contribute to the risk of psoriasis?

New research has found evidence suggesting that a person’s body mass index can increase their risk of developing psoriasis, an increasingly common skin condition. The mechanisms at play, however, remain unclear.
person with psoriasis on their hands
A new study confirms that higher body weight contributes to psoriasis risk.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD) estimate that 32.5% of adults in the United States are overweight and 37.7% have received a diagnosis of obesity.

The NIDDKD also define being overweight as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25–29.9 and having obesity as having a BMI of at least 30.

At the same time, reports indicate that psoriasis, which is a common, chronic skin condition, affects about 2% of the U.S. population.

Studies have shown that over the past few years both obesity and psoriasis have been on the rise in the U.S. Some investigations have also revealed a correlation between the presence of psoriasis and that that of obesity. Could there be a causal relationship between these two conditions?

Now, researchers from collaborating institutions worldwide, including the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and the K.G. Jebsen Center for Genetic Epidemiology in Trondheim, Norway, has investigated precisely this possibility.

According to Dr. Mari Løset, one of the investigators who contributed to this study, “[h]igher BMI may contribute to increased inflammation of the skin, which can exacerbate psoriasis, but it could also be that psoriasis leads to a person being less physically active and thus gaining weight.”

How the team established causality

In their new study, the researchers analyzed the genetic data of 753,421 individuals, using the Mendelian randomization approach. The authors accessed the information through various large databases, including the U.K. Biobank and the Health Survey in Nord-Trøndelag (The HUNT Study) in Norway.

This type of analysis can establish a causal relationship between a potential risk factor and a certain health condition or outcome because it uses the presence of genetic variants as a tool to determine whether or not two factors are causally linked.

As one article published in the Journal of The American Society of Nephrology explains, “genetic variants […] are being increasingly used [to determine causality] because their alleles are assigned to individuals before any exposure or outcome.”

Thus, the presence of genetic variants is independent of any external modifying factors. This provides a more reliable way of establishing what kind of relationship lies between two clinical factors, and which way causality runs.

“Mendelian randomization means that nature itself distributes individuals randomly into groups based on genes. This way, we can avoid the results being influenced by external factors,” Dr. Løset notes.

Since, she continues, “[o]ur understanding of how genes are related to disease is increasing at record speed, […] in this study we used known genetic variants as markers for BMI and psoriasis.”

The team’s findings — reported in a study paper that now appears in the journal PLOS Medicine — indicate that the higher a person’s BMI, the greater is their likelihood of developing psoriasis.

More specifically, Løset says, the researchers “calculated that the risk increased by 9% for each higher whole number on the BMI scale,” Dr. Løset says.

‘We still don’t know enough’

However, Dr. Løset also notes that while she and her colleagues are now confident that there is a causal relationship between higher body weight and the risk of psoriasis, it remains unclear what actual biological mechanisms are involved in this scenario.

We still don’t know enough about the mechanisms behind this connection. Fatty tissue is an organ that produces hormones and inflammatory signaling molecules, which could be a contributing factor.”

Dr. Mari Løset

In the future, the team wants to find out more about possible underlying mechanisms, and what implications these processes might have for prevention strategies or therapeutic approaches.

“Psoriasis is a very complex disease, and we hope to study subgroups, especially individuals with severe psoriasis,” Dr. Løset says, adding that “[t]he hypothesis is that we will be able to observe even greater links with higher weight.”

Medical News Today: What to know about potassium deficiency symptoms

Potassium deficiency can occur if a person does not get enough potassium from their diet or loses too much potassium through prolonged diarrhea or vomiting. The symptoms depend on the severity of the deficiency but can include high blood pressure, constipation, kidney problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, and heart issues.

Potassium is an essential nutrient that the body requires for a wide range of functions, including keeping the heart beating. Severe potassium deficiency is called hypokalemia, and it occurs when a person’s potassium levels fall below 3.6 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).

Doctors consider a person to have severe hypokalemia — a potentially life-threatening condition — when their potassium levels are less than 2.5 mmol/L.

In this article, we describe some of the possible symptoms of potassium deficiency. We also cover when to see a doctor, diagnosis, treatment, and potassium food sources.

Constipation

Potassium plays an important role in relaying messages from the brain to the muscles and regulating muscle contractions. Low potassium levels can affect the muscles in the intestines, which can slow the passage of food and waste. This effect on the intestines can cause constipation and bloating.

Muscle weakness

Potassium deficiency can affect other muscles in the body, including those in the arms and legs, which can lead to general muscle weakness and cramping.

A person loses small amounts of potassium through sweat, which is why heavy sweating from intense physical activity or being in a hot climate can often lead to muscle weakness or cramping.

Unexplained fatigue

Potassium is an essential nutrient that is present in all of the body’s cells and tissues. When potassium levels fall, this can significantly affect a wide range of bodily functions, which can lead to low energy levels and both physical and mental fatigue.

High blood pressure

Blood pressure monitor being applied to arm of person with potassium deficiency or hypokalemia
A person’s potassium levels can affect their blood pressure.

Low potassium levels can lead to an increase in blood pressure, particularly in people with a high sodium, or salt, intake. Potassium has an important role in relaxing the blood vessels, which helps lower a person’s blood pressure.

Potassium also helps balance sodium levels in the body. A diet high in sodium is a common cause of high blood pressure. Doctors often recommend that people with high blood pressure lower their sodium intake and increase their potassium intake.

Polyuria

The kidneys are responsible for removing waste products and regulating the levels of fluids and electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, in the blood. They do this by passing waste and excess electrolytes out of the body in the urine.

Moderate-to-severe hypokalemia can interfere with the kidneys’ ability to balance fluid and electrolyte levels in the bloodstream, and this can lead to increased urination, which is called polyuria.

Muscle paralysis

People with severe hypokalemia can experience muscle paralysis. When the levels of potassium in the body are very low, the muscles are unable to contract properly and may stop working altogether.

Breathing problems

Severe hypokalemia can also lead to breathing problems. Breathing requires the use of several muscles, particularly the diaphragm. If a person’s potassium levels become very low, these muscles may not work properly. A person may have difficulty taking a deep breath or may feel very short of breath.

Irregular heart rhythms

Doctor listening to patients heartbeat using stethoscope
An irregular heart rhythm is a potential symptom of hypokalemia.

Another symptom of severe hypokalemia is an irregular heart rhythm. Potassium plays an important role in regulating the contractions of all muscles, including the heart muscle.

Very low levels of potassium in the body can lead to irregular heart rhythms, including sinus bradycardia, ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation. If a person does not receive treatment, these conditions can be life-threatening.

Doctors can detect irregular heart rhythms using an electrocardiogram (EKG).

When to see a doctor

People with symptoms of hypokalemia should see a doctor.

Hypokalemia is more common in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and gastrointestinal illnesses that cause severe or persistent diarrhea or vomiting. Certain medications, such as laxatives and diuretics, can also increase the risk of potassium deficiency.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention for symptoms of severe hypokalemia, such as muscle paralysis, breathing problems, or irregular heart rhythms.

Diagnosis

A doctor can perform a simple blood test to determine a person’s potassium levels. The test involves taking a small blood sample from a vein in the hand or arm.

To determine the underlying cause of potassium deficiency, a doctor will also review the person’s medical history and any medications that they are taking.

The doctor may sometimes recommend additional tests, including:

  • further blood tests to check the levels of other electrolytes, such as phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium
  • urine testing to determine how much potassium is passing out of the body

Further tests may be necessary depending on the person’s medical history and symptoms.

Treatment

dried apricots in a bowl
Eating foods rich in potassium, such as dried apricots, can help to treat potassium deficiency.

The type of treatment for potassium deficiency will depend on a person’s symptoms and how low their potassium levels have become.

For people with mild hypokalemia, a doctor may recommend:

  • stopping or reducing the dosages of any medicines that can cause low potassium
  • taking daily potassium supplements
  • eating more foods rich in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables
  • taking medications that can increase potassium levels in the body, such as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers

People with severe hypokalemia require immediate treatment, and a doctor may recommend intravenous potassium. However, doctors need to be careful when prescribing hypokalemia treatments as it is possible to provide a person with too much potassium, leading to excessive potassium levels in the body, or hyperkalemia.

Severe hyperkalemia can also cause serious muscle and heart problems.

Food sources

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the recommended daily intake of potassium is:

  • 3,400 milligrams (mg) for adult males
  • 2,600 mg for adult females

Potassium occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, nuts, and whole grains. The body absorbs around 85 to 90% of the potassium in food sources.

Examples of foods rich in potassium include:

  • dried apricots: 1,101 mg per half cup
  • cooked lentils: 731 mg per cup
  • dried prunes: 699 mg per half cup
  • orange juice: 496 mg per cup
  • banana: 422 mg in a medium-sized banana
  • 1%-fat milk: 366 mg per cup
  • spinach: 334 mg per 2 cups
  • nonfat fruit yogurt: 330 mg per 6 ounces
  • cooked, chopped broccoli: 229 mg per half cup
  • cooked brown rice: 154 mg per cup

The best way for a person to get enough potassium is to eat a varied and healthful diet.

Summary

Potassium deficiency, or hypokalemia, can occur if a person does not get enough potassium from their diet. Severe vomiting or diarrhea, IBD, and certain medications can increase the risk of deficiency.

The symptoms of hypokalemia depend on the severity of the deficiency, but they can include constipation, muscle problems, fatigue, and heart issues. Severe hypokalemia can be life-threatening if a person does not receive treatment.

The best way to get enough potassium is to eat a varied diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.