Sodium and potassium relationship are meant to be together. Theirs is a beautiful ying/yang relationship: sodium functions in our extracellular fluid, and potassium in our intracellular fluid.
Yet, they aren’t meant to interact in equal amounts. From time immemorial, humans have required far more potassium than sodium.
How much more?
The Harvard Health article Sodium/potassium ratio important for health puts it this way:
“Our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors took in about 11,000 milligrams (mg) of potassium a day from fruits, vegetables, leaves, flowers, roots, and other plant sources, and well under 700 mg of sodium.”
That equates to a potassium-to-sodium ratio of 16 to 1.
But today …
Our Sodium And Potassium Relationship Is on the Rocks
Sadly, the once-delicate balance between these two nutrients is now on the rocks – the salt rocks. By consuming a whopping 3,400 mg of salt and only 2,500 mg of potassium, we’ve clearly inverted the natural ratio.
It now registers as potassium-to-sodium 0.74 to 1.
We over-consume sodium and under-consume potassium, and this upside-down dosage isn’t healthy! Think: Car with electrical problems.
What does electricity have to do with nutrition? More than we realize.
The term electrolyte comes from the Greek electro, meaning electricity, and lytos, meaning to loosen. In nutritional terms, it refers to electrically charged nutrients that dissolve (loosen) in a liquid.
In this case, in blood.
For his discovery that solid crystal salt dissociated into charged ions when dissolved, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery. Nutritionally speaking, electrolytes are a big deal!
The electrolytes powering our lives include:
Each of them plays critical roles in the human body. Sodium and potassium are necessary for maintaining healthy fluid balance and blood pressure.
How Sodium and Potassium Work
Imagine a pump pulling potassium into our cells while pushing sodium out. The electrical charge from this pumping action sends signals to our nerves and powers our muscles.
When excessive sodium disrupts the potassium and sodium balance, our kidneys try to flush the excess sodium through urine. The potassium goes where the sodium goes.
So every time sodium is flushed, potassium (which we’re already lacking) gets flushed with it. The body responds by trying to retain potassium, inadvertently hanging onto sodium as well.
Sodium attracts water, so we experience water build-up. It also stiffens our arteries, so impeding the excess water’s flow. The result is high blood pressure.
High blood pressure makes the heart and all the arteries work harder, leading to heart failure and stroke.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. In the same way electrical problems wreak havoc in our vehicles, the impact on our bodies is both devastating and diverse.
A potassium and sodium imbalance affects every part of our bodies: muscles, bones, arteries, brain, kidneys, heart, and even our eyes.
Restoring Healthy Potassium and Sodium Ratio
What’s the solution?
Simple: flip the ratio back to normal. Remember, potassium and sodium work together, but we need one way more than the other. And the one we need much more of is potassium.
How do we correct the potassium and sodium ratio?
We have only one way to receive electrolytes: through our mouths. We can consume more potassium and less sodium by eating more like our ancestors did!
According to Harvard Health, our ancestors’ diet was loaded with potassium-rich foods, including:
and other plant-based sources.
Sounds like a whole-food, plant-based diet to me! If our arteries could talk, they’d be begging us to choose a low-sodium, high potassium diet.
We should pay attention to our bodies and do whatever it takes to let our potassium and sodium electrolytes ebb and flow the way they were meant to!