Potassium, usually found dissolved in seawater or plant cells, is extremely important for the normal functioning of the human body. Read this Buzzle article to know more about this metallic-based chemical element.
Potassium was the first metal to be isolated by the process of electrolysis. It was discovered by Sir Humphry Davy in 1807. Its name is derived from the English word ‘potash’, which means an alkali extracted from the ash of burnt wood or tree leaves. The chemical symbol of this element is K and is derived from the Latin word kalium. Its atomic number is 19, and its atomic mass is 39.0983.
Potassium is a soft silvery-white alkali metal. It has 20 neutrons and 19 protons in its structural arrangement. It melts at the temperature of 336.8 K and boils at 1047.15 K. Even though this element is the seventh most abundantly found element, it is difficult to obtain it from its minerals. As it is very electropositive in nature, it reacts violently with water, causing eruptions.
Industrial Uses of Potassium
Potassium is used to make the following products:
- Medicinal supplements
- Substitute for common table salt
- Production of potassium bromide, which is an essential chemical used in photography
- Production of potassium hydroxide to make detergents
Interesting Facts about Potassium
- Its earliest use was in making soaps.
- It reacts violently with water, causing eruptions.
- The potassium salts are mined in Germany and the USA.
- It is never found free in nature, but has to be obtained by electrolysis.
- It makes up about 2.4% of the weight of the Earth’s crust.
- It controls the movement inside cells and helps to pump fluids inside the nerves and heart.
It is vital for all animal and plant life. In human beings, it promotes the well-being of both physical and mental processes. Maintaining the right balance of potassium in the body depends on the intake of a healthy diet.
Potassium for Human Health
It facilitates efficient cognitive functioning by ensuring adequate oxygen flow to the brain. It helps in regulating the level of body fluids, maintaining normal blood pressure, keeping the heart functioning properly, and regulating the working of the nervous system by promoting proper functioning of the tissues. It enhances muscle control and its proper growth, and health of cells. It helps the kidneys in their waste removal process, decreasing the amount of calcium excreted in urine, and minimizing the risk of kidney stones. Since it helps in maintaining the levels of calcium, it protects the bones from osteoporosis. It is an important component for balancing the pH of the body.
According to The National Academy of Sciences (Denver), an intake of 3,500 mg to 4,700 mg of potassium is required per day. However, certain health conditions such as alcoholism, high stress, and prolonged illness require different levels of this element. It is best to consult your doctor in such cases.
There are health hazards in consuming both excess or deficient amount of potassium, leading to hyperkalemia (high levels of potassium) or hypokalemia (low levels of potassium), respectively. In these conditions, both physical and mental health are affected. Mental symptoms include a slower cognitive process, insomnia, anorexia, various nervous disorders, etc. Physical symptoms are muscle damage, cardiovascular irregularities, kidney and lung failure, weak bones, and fatigue.
Dietary sources of potassium include nuts, avocados, citrus fruits, bananas, watermelon, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, greens, spinach, soy products, seafood, meat, and potassium-rich supplements. It is found in a concentrated form in fruits.
Our bodies are complex in nature, requiring the maintenance of its delicate chemical balance. Any disruption in this balance causes diseases or physical or mental distress, which can sometimes cause irreversible damage. Prevention through proper nutrition is all it takes to lead a healthy and normal life. Its industrial uses as well as its nutritional value indicate how important potassium is in our life.