POTASSIUM supplementation–do you need to consider it?

One of many discoveries made by thyroid patients is that “normal” lab results don’t tell the whole story. And thyroid and adrenal patient advocate Valerie Taylor sure found out the hard way while dealing with worsening muscle spasms and weakness.

“I have been to at least 6 doctors over the past seven years and read thousands of websites, hunting for the cause of my severe muscle spasms”, explains Valerie. “They all ruled out potassium, a potentially likely cause,  because my serum lab result, 4.2, was right smack in the middle of the normal range.”

So Valerie was forced to live with her worsening muscle issues– spasms, weakness and pain–because all labs were normal and those that weren’t, didn’t pertain.  Even her insulin-dependent Type 2 Diabetes was well-controlled. And she knew it was all threatening to put her out of work as a pet groomer.  It was bleak.

But a surprising change was to come.

“About 2 months ago,” says Valerie, “someone on one of my groups mentioned potassium helping with fluid retention–the latter I’ve had for the last 15 years and took  Dyazide, a potassium sparing diuretic.

She also learned about getting an RBC (red blood cell) potassium lab as it shows what’s inside the cells rather than in serum (as usual labs show).  And the results? It came back LOW.

Valerie has since worked her way up to 2850 mg. Potassium in a combo of chloride and gluconate…and below, in her own words, are the results:

  • No more muscle spasms and the weakness and pain is leaving more daily!
  • My IBS suddenly STOPPED!
  • My insulin needs are HALF what they were before this supplement, and blood pressure & pulse are both down.
  • ALL fluid retention is gone! I dropped 18 pounds the first month in just fluid weight.

Valerie is currently waiting for lab results to see if she needs to adjust further.

She concludes: I have since learned that being hypothyroid causes potassium losses, as does ANY steroid which I had been on for necessary adrenal support. Diabetes with a low carb diet also predisposes us to lose intracellular potassium into the serum which is probably why my serum labs looked normal in the face of extreme shortage. I hope many will see this and at the very least get RBC potassium labs done and if you have high BP or fluid retention, reach for potassium before a diuretic!


Even without being inspired by Valerie’s discovery, there is good research out there for eating potassium rich foods, or like Valerie, using supplementation if your levels are low.  The LA Times reported a study which stated that consuming twice as much potassium as sodium might halve your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease,  stated by epidemiologist Paul Whelton, president and chief executive of the Loyola University Health System in Chicago and one of the authors of the study.

Here’s a list of potassium rich foods: http://www.hoptechno.com/bookfoodsourceK.htm

Here’s a list of symptoms of low potassium: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/signs-and-symptoms-of-low-potassium.html

And remember: ask your doctor to do an Red Blood Cell Potassium lab rather than simply serum. And don’t go as high as Valerie with supplementation unless you have proof of low potassium.

P.S. Magnesium helps pump sodium out of your cells, and potassium into the cells–a good reason to get magnesium tested as well.

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13 Responses to “POTASSIUM supplementation–do you need to consider it?”

  1. toriterese

    Yay! Thanks for this blog post…this comes at an all too familiar time, as I’ve just discovered my potassium is in the toilet, and I need to supplement. In fact Valerie and I were just posting on our Yahoo group about why kind to try, and how much. Thank you for always posting such relavent stuff…and lifesaving!

  2. Kim

    Oh, my! I can’t believe this! Awesome. I just about gave up, thinking I can’t get any help. I tried alot of things with the adrenal issues and such…found out I can’t use cortisols, so I gave up on everybody and stayed away, in my own misery…..I would have never knew this happened about potassium except for your blog! I am going for testing and find out where I am at. I was the same as Val, 4.2. Interesting!

  3. Michelle

    My potassium has dropped from 5.2 to 3.4 since my TT in Oct. 2009. I have extreme dizziness, nausea, horrible muscle weakness, cramps and spasms, chest pain, intense muscle pain and left arm pain. I feel confused a lot of the time and I’ve been eating SO MUCH spinach, raisins and bananas, as well as taking potassium powder supplements. I can’t get it above 3.9. I will ask for the other blood test. Oh, I had a one time urine test to see if potassium was leaving through kidneys. My dr. shakes his head and says, wow, I’ve never seen anything like this. Maybe he should visit the internet once in a while?

  4. melissa

    I have a question. I have been having a problem with my potassium. for quite a while it has been dropping and for some reason they could not find out why. they have not been checking rbc just serum. I get it around normal but I start feeling cramps in chest when it gets close to 3.0 and it has gone as low as 2.3 before. that called for potassium from I.V. as you could imagine. Is it possible that rbc is lower? Can it be lower than serum and if it does not go up at same rate, how does it get raised without getting serum too high? Of coarse, I have seen now about false high’s with pumping fists and tunicates on too long and etc in some articles so my potassium may have actually been lower than even the 2.3. But I have been searching and have not found hardly any information on if rbc is lower than serum numbers.

    (From Janie: Yes, RBC Potassium will be more accurate)

  5. charlotte

    I’ve had unexplained episodes of potassium loss for the past 6-7 years that increased in severity and eventually led me to a nephrologist….then to an endocrinologist who found a goiter two days ago—and he’s thinking Hashimoto’s. I’ve been taking a potassium chloride supplement, but can barely get my K levels up to 3.6. My question is…even with hypothyroid treatment, will postassium remain a problem? And what’s the mechanism for the loss? Is it because of overworked adrenals? My cortisol was normal—but I’m wondering about other bloggers who have potassium issues. If our potassium is low, would that be a red flag for adrenal issues?


  6. Heidi

    I have been struggling to keep my potassium up. I take up to 120M a day. I have been through all testing.been close to 2 heart attacks. I kept saying that my thryoid was the issue. I finnally found a WONDERFUL doctor that looks outside of the box. She started me 3week ago on Nature Thyoid and It has been like day and night. And yeaterday I had my potassium checked and it is up to 4.1 WoooHoo!! I am so excited!! I feel wonderful, I can breathe again,literally. I hope that my info will help others

  7. Debbie

    I have tried to find out which lab runs the Red Blood Cell Potassium lab and cannot find one. My GP will generally run testing for me, but without it being listed on the labs she uses, this will lessen my chances of it getting run.


    (From Janie: go to the following link, and see list of labs on left. You’ll see RBC Potassium: https://sttm.mymedlab.com/sttm-profiles/sttm-thyroid-complete For future reference, My Med Lab is listed on this page: http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/recommended-labwork and is also on page 242 of revised STTM book.)

  8. Debbie

    Thank you Janie for your reply. Are there any other labs that run this test? I don’t know if my GP will take info from a lab she isn’t familiar with.

    (From Janie: I would suggest asking patients about this within good patient groups: http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/talk-to-others )

  9. Debbie

    Thanks Janie.

    Does anyone have an answer? Are there other labs that run the RBC potassium levels? If so please let me know. Thanks.


  10. amanda moseley

    I have a fluctuating spasm in my face, neck and arm goes up and down all day.
    Its gets worse after sweating (which I get extreme sweating) when. Really bad I get a hard fast heart beat, anxiety, swollen belly..my face looks like I have slight facial weakness lower around mouth)..

    I have border line hypothyroid…does this sound like low potassium..

    Sometimes it improves with eating sea salt..but not always…

    I can also suddenly put on weight and be puffy..if I drink water I start swelling up…or I seem to be very dehydrated and face is gaunt skin is parched, dehydrated etc but will suddenly all happen at the same time!



  11. Lael

    For those in Australia who would like to get Red Cell potassium tested, Nutripath Labs offer a panel for $130 which includes Ca, Cr, K, Mg, Na, Se, Zn, This can be ordered by phoning Nutripath and doesn’t require a doctor’s referral. The test to request is #5027.

  12. Pinky

    If you are peeing a lot, having a difficult time concentrating your urine, and have muscle cramps/spasms and or dizziness/weakness/syncope, please see a nephrologist to rule out genetic salt wasting disorders. They can lead to very low levels of potassium and magnesium, which can be dangerous. Symptoms can masquerade as hypothyroid, fibromyalgia, cardiac (torsades de pointes arrhythmia) or all three. If after a check you come up clear, your symptoms might simply be due to low levels of potassium and magnesium, which can take up to 6 months to correct. It took a time-release potassium pill (prescription), salt pills (my BP is low), and multiple doses of magnesium throughout the day, to get me feeling *normal* again. It turned out not to be my thyroid, after all. Don’t give up!

  13. mandy

    Thanks pink y means alot still struggling 😢
    Hopefully next appointn
    Ment will get there


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