Despite being one of the most rigorously studied and best-understood illnesses in the modern world, diabetes continues to be of considerable interest to medical researchers attempting to gain a better understanding of this common illness. Diabetes is a complex disease that involves an interplay between many different bodily processes and chemicals, meaning that there are always new topics for researchers to explore. Research is still being conducted to better expose these interactions in order to more effectively treat diabetes and its harmful health consequences.
One development that researchers are analyzing relates to the various connections that exist between potassium levels and diabetes. Not only has potassium been seen to fluctuate dramatically as a result of untreated diabetes levels, but low potassium levels may even increase the likelihood of developing diabetes in the first place.
What is potassium and why do we need it?
Potassium is a chemical found in the periodic table of elements. It is both a mineral and an electrolyte that exists naturally in the world. Because of its electrolytic properties (meaning that it can conduct electric impulses when dissolved in a solution), potassium plays an important role in the regulation of many bodily functions, including nerve impulses, muscle contractions, proper heart function, and proper endocrine regulation.
What is the connection between diabetes and potassium?
In order to understand the mechanism of a potential connection between potassium and diabetes, it is important to understand the interplay between insulin, glucose, and potassium in the body. Insulin is a hormone, produced in the pancreas, that signals the body’s cells to import glucose from the bloodstream for energy production. Diabetics either don’t produce enough insulin (type 1), or do not respond to insulin (type 2), but both cases result in insufficient glucose being transported into the cells. Accordingly, left untreated, glucose will build up in the bloodstream.
Potassium itself can play a role in insulin production. In fact, its role is so important that a significant link appears to exist between low potassium levels and insufficient insulin production. Studies have observed that diabetes appears to be more prevalent among populations with low levels of potassium. While it is always difficult to draw conclusions about causation from correlations like this, these findings, combined with the knowledge that potassium does play a role in the production of insulin, have led some researchers to hypothesize that there may be a causal connection.
Potassium is normally found within the body’s cells; however, when blood sugar levels become too high, potassium exits the cell and enters the bloodstream, raising blood potassium concentrations to often dangerous levels. Thus, an episode of diabetic hyperglycemia can trigger a chain reaction that ultimately leads to potassium leaching out of cells and into the bloodstream.
Thus, there are two potential connections between potassium and diabetes. Diabetes can cause high levels of potassium due to increased blood sugar levels, and insufficient potassium levels can potentially increase the risk of diabetes in the first place.
What causes low potassium?
The human body is not capable of producing its own supply of potassium. Therefore, it must derive this important nutrient from the foods that it eats. Unfortunate