Potassium metabolism is one of those things we just have to know. We can really hurt people if get this one wrong. Here is a review on the topic. Now, go a eat some bananas !
The plasma potassium level is normally maintained within narrow limits (typically, 3.5 to 5.0 mmol per liter) by multiple mechanisms that collectively make up potassium homeostasis. Such strict regulation is essential for a broad array of vital physiologic processes. The importance of potassium homeostasis is underscored by the well-recognized finding that patients with hypokalemia or hyperkalemia have an increased rate of death from any cause. In addition, derangements of potassium homeostasis have been associated with pathophysiologic processes, such as progression of cardiac and kidney disease and interstitial fibrosis.
External potassium homeostasis regulates renal potassium excretion to balance potassium intake, minus extrarenal potassium loss and correction for any potassium deficits. External potassium balance involves three control systems. Two systems can be categorized as “reactive,” whereas a third system is considered to be “predictive.” A negative-feedback system reacts to changes in the plasma potassium level and regulates the potassium balance. Potassium excretion increases in response to increases in the plasma potassium level, leading to a decrease in the plasma level. A reactive feed-forward system that responds to potassium intake in a manner that is independent of changes in the systemic plasma potassium level has also been recognized. A predictive system appears to modulate the effect of reactive systems, enhancing physiologic mechanisms at the time of day when food intake characteristically occurs — typically, during the day in humans and at night in nocturnal rodents. This predictive system is driven by a circadian oscillator in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain and is entrained to the ambient light–dark cycle. The central oscillator (clock) entrains intracellular clocks in the kidney that generate the cyclic changes in excretion. When food intake is evenly distributed over 24 hours, and physical activity and ambient light are held constant, this system produces a cyclic variation in potassium excretion.
Internal potassium homeostasis is the maintenance of an asymmetric distribution of total body potassium between the intracellular and extracellular fluid (approximately 98% intracellular and only a small fraction, approximately 2%, extracellular), which occurs by the balance of active cellular uptake by sodium–potassium adenosine triphosphatase, an enzyme that pumps sodium out of cells while pumping potassium into cells (called the sodium–potassium pump rate), and passive potassium efflux (called the leak rate). Little increase in the plasma potassium level occurs during potassium absorption from the gut in normal persons owing to potassium excretion by the kidney and potassium sequestration by the liver and muscle. Insulin, catecholamines, and mineralocorticoids stimulate potassium uptake into muscle and other tissues. Between meals, the plasma potassium level is nearly constant, as potassium excretion is balanced by the release of sequestered intracellular potassium.
The healthy kidney has a robust capacity to excrete potassium, and under normal conditions, most persons can ingest very large quantities of potassium (400 mmol per day or more) without clinically significant hyperkalemia. Potassium that is filtered at the glomerulus is largely reabsorbed in the proximal tubule and the loop of Henle. Consequently, the rate of renal potassium excretion is determined mainly by the difference between potassium secretion and potassium reabsorption in the cortical distal nephron and collecting duct. Both of these processes are regulated — potassium ingestion stimulates potassium secretion and inhibits potassium reabsorption. Factors that regulate potassium secretion and reabsorption can be divided into those that serve to preserve potassium balance (homeostatic) and those that affect potassium excretion without intrinsically acting to preserve potassium balance (contra-homeostatic). Examples of the latter include flow rate in the renal tubular lumen and the luminal sodium level. The acid–base balance also affects potassium excretion. The predominant effect of acidosis is to inhibit potassium clearance, whereas the predominant effect of alkalosis is to stimulate potassium clearance.
In vertebrates, a central clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain and peripheral clocks that are present in virtually all cells regulate circadian rhythms. Among the many physiologic functions in humans that show circadian rhythms, few are more consistent and stable than the circadian rhythm of urinary potassium excretion. The timing signals from the central clock to the peripheral clocks remain uncertain, but adrenal corticosteroids and agents from other loci have been proposed or identified. Although the action of cortisol in promoting potassium excretion would suggest a direct (nonclock) hormonal effect, studies by Moore-Ede and colleagues indicate that cortisol serves as a clock synchronizer. Aldosterone also affects certain circadian clocks and, in particular, acutely induces the expression of period circadian clock 1 (PER1) in the kidney.
Having a basic understanding of the metabolism of this mineral is important when deciding therapies to treat or prevent potassium plasma level variations. Now you know... be careful when writing for potassium or telling patients to take supplements.