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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:47 pm
Potassium (puh-TAS-see-um) helps nerves transmit messages, aids digestive enzymes, guides normal growth, and ensures proper muscle functioning, including that of the heart. Potassium is a major element in the fluid inside cells and plays an important role in maintaining the balance of water and acid in the body. Diuretic (dye-you-REH-tic) drugs, which may be prescribed for high blood pressure, cause potassium to be flushed out of the bloodstream, which can lead to a potassium deficiency. This also can occur with chronic diarrhea (dye-uh-REE-uh), vomiting, or kidney disease. People with eating disorders who misuse laxatives, diuretics, and who self-induce vomiting can become potassium deficient. Symptoms include paralysis, sterility, muscle weakness, mental apathy and confusion, and damage to the kidneys and heart. The best source of potassium is fresh fruits and vegetables. Those high in the mineral include potatoes, bananas, tomatoes, oranges, dried peas, and dried beans, especially black and navy beans.

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