Metals like sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium are essential for the brain. They work together to maintain brain health and function. Among these metal ions that band together potassium is one that often goes unnoticed. But without potassium, the core electrical signalling within a neuron and to the other neuron would not exist.
“Sodium and potassium are both essential ions for the brain and one ion cannot exist without the other,” Dr Rohit Pai, consultant neurologist, Kasturba Medical College and Hospitals, Mangaluru, tells Happiest Health. With sodium outside the cell and potassium inside the cell, both these ions work together to maintain a stable electrical charge across the membrane of the neurons.
Dr Pai explains that both ions exist in equal concentrations and both work in opposition work to ensure proper uninterrupted nerve signal conduction. However, potassium has an extra bit of carrying the electrical signals to the other parts of the body.
Apart from ensuring that the neurons conduct the electrical signal, potassium has many more essential roles in the brain. “Since our brain uses potassium for the process of neuronal plasticity, this ion helps maintain cognitive function,” says Dr Pai. Hence, when the potassium levels are low (called hypokalaemia) it presents as brain fog and generalised weakness. Extremely low potassium can often manifest in a condition called periodic paralysis. This condition usually occurs in people with mutations in the potassium channels or those with kidney or thyroid-related conditions.
Dr Pai adds that the potassium channels are specifically present in the hippocampus to help in remembering and retaining memory. Potassium also dilates the blood vessels, ensuring that the blood flows more easily and hence, providing more oxygen to the brain. This in turn improves cognitive functions, counteracts the damage caused by oxidative stress and protects the neurons.
Potassium is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, including bananas and avocados. Consuming these fruits also works to regulate cortisol, adrenaline, and serotonin levels. Hence solidifying its role in helping with anxiety and depression.
This infographic presents some of the many benefits of potassium and why it is essential for brain health.