September 02, 2016

Potassium Chloride

I've had a problem with my potassium level being low. This is quite common for Americans. When it gets like that, I start getting leg cramps, which I think isn't quite as common. All of a sudden one or the other of my calf muscles will clench hard, and it really hurts. (It's known as a "Charley Horse".)

I've been putting up with them most of my life, and then I read somewhere that it was caused by low potassium, and the solution was "eat bananas". And it works, too, except that I really hate bananas. I always have; I don't like how they taste. So when I have cramps I will buy bananas, eat a couple of them, and the rest rot on top of my refrigerator. And maybe the cramps go away and maybe they don't.

There has to be a better way. I wondered if there was a pill I could take, a potassium supplement, and indeed they sell such a thing. But what they contain is Potassium Gluconate, and it's only 17% potassium. The rest is essentially sugar.

Apparently the recommended daily intake of potassium is 4700 mg. One of those Gluconate pills contains 99 mg of potassium, which makes it pretty much useless, not to mention ridiculously expensive: 100 pills costs like $6.

My mind doesn't work very fast these days, and about a week ago I remembered that when I was a kid they used to sell something called "salt substitute", for people who back then tried to follow medical advice to drastically reduce their sodium intake. (Which was SCIENCE! back then but is kind of out of favor now.) Salt Substitute was potassium chloride, where table salt was sodium chloride.

I wondered whether they still sell it, so when I put in my most recent order for groceries from Safeway, I checked. And they do; Morton (the salt people) also sell this. So I bought a package.

Just now I had a TV dinner for my evening meal. This was meat loaf, and I always add butter and salt to the veggies and the potatoes. Otherwise they don't taste like anything. This time I added butter and salt substitute, and I was a bit apprehensive about how it might taste. But it was good. The interesting thing is that it does taste almost the same as salt. I shook a bit onto my palm and licked it, and it was nearly the same. If anything it seems to be a slightly stronger flavor.

I hope it makes my leg cramps go away.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Daily Life at 06:45 PM | Comments (9) | Add Comment
Post contains 431 words, total size 3 kb.

1 Potassium chloride is quite a bit stronger than sodium chloride, taste-wise.  I've been using it for years for the same thing, partly because bananas don't agree with me.
The stuff I use has 650mg potassium per 1/4 tsp.

Posted by: RickC at September 02, 2016 08:03 PM (Ir5TZ)

2 Ever since The Cardiac Incident either caused my potassium levels to turn into a smoking crater, or was caused by my potassium levels imitating the *Prince of Wales* off Malaya, I've taken supplements.

In fact, potassium gluconate like you; I was first told to eat at least three bananas a day.  That lasted for about two weeks, and then I didn't eat bananas again for nearly five years.  A baked potato with the skin provides twice as much potassium than a banana anyway.

Anyway, I take up to four potassium gluconate pills per day, and it seems to be keeping me at hunky-dory levels.  Heaven knows I've had my blood tested enough to know.

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 02, 2016 08:27 PM (vZvpB)

3 I tend to follow the old "bananas for a charley horse" advice, but since I don't keep bananas around the house and they're never ready to eat at the store, I substitute banana cream pie.


Posted by: J Greely at September 02, 2016 08:48 PM (ZlYZd)


Every time I order bananas from Safeway I include a note that says: "RIPE! Black spots!"

And they're always as green as olives, anyway. The people who fill the orders don't follow instructions very closely. "No substitutes" seems to mean, "Unless I feel like doing a substitute". So my "Alouette Garlic and Herbs Cream Cheese" turned into some strange stuff from France which simply didn't taste the same.

Oh, well; they mostly do OK, and without them I really would have to go to a nursing home. So I'm grateful anyway.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 02, 2016 09:50 PM (+rSRq)

5 I have to take potassium because of my celiac disease, because without it I get occasional bad heartbeats, which will presumably get worse over time. There is something weird about potassium supplements. I also noticed they show as being something like 5% of your RDA. However, they also definitely work when I take only a single pill. My guess is that they "really' are something more like 100% of the RDA and there's some sort of bureaucratic snafu forcing them to be labeled so low for some FDA federal blah blah blah reason.

Posted by: Jeremy Bowers at September 03, 2016 05:39 AM (qPsU5)

6 I take potassium pills, too, because otherwise I get awful leg cramps. Waking up in the middle of the night screaming awful; Thanks to my short Achilles tendons, I've got very large calf muscles.
Long term, potassium is stored in your bones. The blood stream inventory of it is much, much smaller.
So, basically you've got two issues going on: Do you, at this moment, have enough potassium in your blood to avoid muscle cramps? AND, Are you getting enough potassium to avoid drawing down the supply in your bones, which eventually leads to weak bones.
Doesn't take much highly available potassium taken at a meal to boost your blood level enough to avoid cramps for a while. Takes more to keep  your bones healthy.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore at September 03, 2016 08:41 AM (l55xw)

7 The next day after some tests, my doctor's office phoned and told me to immediately start taking potassium chloride (Klor-Con). They were the biggest pills I'd ever swallowed, but fortunately they took me off them before the bottle was empty. 
The FDA limits all potassium supplements to 99 mg to prevent hyperkalemia. Wikipedia says dried apricots have the highest concentration of potassium by weight of any food.  

Posted by: muon at September 04, 2016 02:43 AM (vMYTH)

8 I didn't realise there was so much potassium in food, or that we needed so much.  It has the highest RDA of any dietary mineral.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at September 06, 2016 02:13 AM (PiXy!)

9 Ah.  You should (if you have the time and inclination) read Destiny's Road.

It is a major plot point that the animals on this planet put the potassium that is available at the bottom of the sea versus available for human nervous systems.

Posted by: Mark A. Flacy at September 11, 2016 03:12 PM (ATlQg)

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