I actually got interested in looking at the role potassium may play in diabetes from personal experience. I’ve recognized that I’ve had particular issues with low potassium issues for decades, ever since I started getting interested in health management back in the early 1980’s.
So one of my first tasks was to look to see what I may be deficient in and what I wasn’t getting enough of, and potassium really stood out in particular. While we can only get an approximation of potassium intake by looking at what we consume in our diet, this can still give us a ballpark figure, and we need to be in the right ballpark here, and I was clearly a few leagues away from the majors for sure.
So this did get me paying attention to this more, I found in particular that getting my potassium intake closer to normal, closer to the recommended amounts, did make me feel a lot better, and I was pretty fatigued when I didn’t, which is a common symptom actually.
Still though, for whatever reason, not taking this seriously enough I guess, I still didn’t do a very good job at seeking out getting close to recommended amounts over the years, and decades, as I should have.
We know now that people, on average, in the U.S. and Canada at least, fall well short of recommended amounts for potassium, and this is an epidemic actually, although not one that’s really taken seriously as you have to fall within the bottom 5% to get diagnosed with this, clinical hypokalemia, and aside from that the situation is pretty much ignored. You might find some suggestions to get enough in your diet, but people just don’t, and they eat much more potassium rich diets than I ever did.
However, when I discovered I had diabetes and ended up having to modify my diet, it became even more important to pay attention to potassium intake, at least with the low carb diet I started out with, this had significantly less potassium than the amount I was getting without dietary restriction, which I already knew was woefully adequate.
I did drink a lot of fruit juice back then though to try to keep it up, which was still not enough, but that was now out, unless I wanted to shoot my blood sugar to the moon from a liter of fruit juice for instance, which I didn’t. So I had been taking potassium supplements off and on over the years and the time for that was definitely now.
So what ended up happening from this is that I began to notice, over time, that increasing my potassium had some real effects on my blood sugar and diabetes, and in particular, my PP response. So I started looking into this, and as it turns out, even though this plays a central role in beta cell function, there’s not a lot of good info out there on this, but there is at least some, and there is every reason to believe that potassium deficiency contributes to type 2 diabetes significantly.
I have wondered, from time to time, how I got this disease, and sitting back now, 3 years after diagnosis, with all the research I’ve done on this, and in examining my own condition closely and how I respond to things in particular, there’s little doubt in my mind that potassium deficiency, or rather my neglect of it, is what has caused me to become diabetic.
There are other factors involved of course, as this is a particularly complex disease, but on the other hand there are some factors that play a bigger role than others, and I would say that for me anyway, if not for most of us, and maybe all of us, potassium plays a big role here.
So since then, being the curious sort, I have played around with potassium quite a bit, and have found that it indeed plays a central role in my diabetes, and I notice a dramatic difference when I am getting a decent amount versus not.
So once again, this is something that has not been studied very much at all, although it has indeed been studied somewhat, and here’s a good paper for you summarizing some of the things we know already about this, written in 2012.
As it turns out, potassium plays a fundamental role in insulin secretion, and has been found to really play a big role in the timing of it, and with type 2 diabetes, we may secrete more insulin overall than non diabetics, but we also tend to have a delayed response to glucose ingestion.
Potassium levels have been shown to play a central role in this, and when we are deficient in this, this delays the response, which may also explain the lack of proper suppression of glucagon that I’ve spoke about in other posts, where now you have glucagon being increased rather than being suppressed in response to a meal.
The excessive liver dumping that results is a matter of insulin not being high enough and glucagon being too high, so our blood sugar is high but our liver is tricked into thinking it is too low, and it will then raise our blood sugar even higher, and this plays a major role in the extent of our after meal blood sugar excursions.
We also have discovered that those who have low potassium have a much higher risk of getting diabetes, and studies have measured a risk in excess of 50% higher, which actually makes low potassium one of the best predictors of diabetes there is. It’s not the only factor by any means but it is a meaningful one.
Once you get diabetes though, then this really starts to effect things, and from what we know in using drugs which either deplete or spare potassium, there are noticeable differences between differing levels of potassium.
Potassium also has been shown to play a role in insulin sensitivity, and this may be its biggest mechanism of influence on type 2 diabetes, although the mechanisms here aren’t well understood as of yet. This is of lesser importance though than just looking to seek out adequate intake.
Cohort studies looking at dietary intake have been problematic, because deficiency is so widespread, and you end up looking at groups of people who only average 2700 mg a day, where the recommended intake is 4700 mg. It’s actually not easy at all to put together a group that gets enough of this to compare with, and otherwise, you’re just comparing low and lower, which doesn’t tend to produce meaningful results.
We need to be doing a heck of a lot more research on this, but even more importantly, we need to be promoting adequate potassium intake a heck of a lot more than we do. We need to discard the ridiculous notion that it is somehow sufficient or acceptable to just tell people to get enough in their diet when they clearly do not, and instead look at ways which people can actually give themselves a chance to do so, which is going to require supplementation.
Potassium supplementation can indeed be dangerous if people take absurd amounts, exceeding by several times recommended amounts over a long period of time, but this doesn’t mean that we should ever discourage adequate intakes though supplementation, but that’s exactly what we do.
This needs to stop, or at least those of us with a clue need to give our heads a shake and not be so fooled by this nonsense, and strive to actually better achieve these conservative targets that are arrived at because this is actually what we need in order to have good health.
So if someone is getting enough in their diet that’s great, if they aren’t, well it’s not so simple to just tell them to do it, and supplementing may be the only way they can, and this is too important of a nutrient to just neglect the way we do.