Avoid Potassium Depletion When Taking Diuretics9 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Social media sensation and rapper Cardi B received some backlash last summer. Not for her daring song lyrics, risque outfits or what some consider as her ‘outrageous personality,’ but for promoting a tea detox product.
After giving birth to her first child, the rap star told her millions of followers over Instagram that she would be drinking a detox tea, which usually has laxative effects, to drop the baby weight.
“But schools of nutritionists have warned that pumping your body with laxatives could not only dehydrate you but also strip your colon of nutrients and leave you unable to pass a bowel movement without them,” according to one report.
Furthermore, a registered dietician who was referenced in the report said that many of these detox teas contain plant-based caffeine, which act as a diuretic.
What are diuretics?
Diuretics, also called water pills, can be life-saving for some people. They eliminate excess water and salt from the body by increasing urination and in many instances, serve valid medical purposes.
By helping the body get rid of excess sodium (salt) and water, they may help control blood pressure.
In addition to high blood pressure, diuretics may also be used to help treat other health issues, including swollen tissues, kidney disease and heart failure. According to the American Heart Association, heart failure basically means that the heart is not pumping as well as it should be. And having extra fluid in the body can make it hard for the heart to work properly and can even make breathing difficult.
Many Americans suffer from heart issues, so you can probably imagine that many people in the U.S. take diuretics, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC).
But sometimes diuretics are abused for weight loss purposes.
“Diuretics are often abused by athletes to excrete water for rapid weight loss and to mask the presence of other banned substances. Because of their abuse by athletes, diuretics have been included on The World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of prohibited substances; the use of diuretics is banned both in competition and out of competition and diuretics are routinely screened for by anti-doping laboratories,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
People with certain eating disorders, like anorexia or bulimia, may abuse laxatives along with diuretics in an attempt to lose weight rapidly.
Now let’s take a look at some of the different types of diuretics:
- Thiazide diuretics. “Thiazide diuretics are a class of drugs commonly recommended as first-line treatment for raised blood pressure because they significantly reduce death, stroke and heart attacks.”
- Loop diuretics. Loop diuretics are predominantly used to treat edema (swelling). “Loop diuretics reduce plasma volume to cause migration of edema fluid from the tissue back into the circulation, from where it can be excreted.”
- Potassium-sparing diuretics. This type of diuretic Increases urination without the loss of potassium. “Because potassium-sparing diuretics do not promote the secretion of potassium during diuresis they do not cause hypokalemia (low potassium levels). However, there is a risk of hyperkalemia (high potassium levels) if they are used with other agents that also retain potassium, such as ACE inhibitor [anti-hypersensitives, lower blood pressure],” according to one source.
- Combination diuretics. Could be a combination of the types of diuretics mentioned above.
In light of the various types of diuretics, it is important to speak with a competent healthcare professional about which type of diuretic therapy is best for you.
There is no dispute that overusing diuretics may deplete the body of essential nutrients, like potassium, which is essential to our health and wellbeing. Potassium is an essential mineral that works with sodium to balance the fluid and electrolytes in the body. Potassium also helps keep blood pressure under control and may help reduce kidney stones and bone loss as you age. It may even reduce your risk of stroke. Most adults need about 4,700 mg of potassium per day.
If you are taking diuretics, it is important to be aware of this possible side effect of potassium loss. The good news is that you can be proactive by talking to your doctor about identifying potassium rich foods and perhaps taking a potassium supplement.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you also lose potassium through sweating. So during the summer months or for those who live in warmer climates, it’s important to be aware that you are more likely to be deficient in potassium if you are in hotter temperatures and sweating.
And recent research found evidence which suggested that potassium supplements may increase survival in patients taking diuretics for heart failure, particularly when they may be at a higher risk of potassium loss due to climate.
According to a report discussing the study, researchers found that “...taking prescription potassium supplements can reduce these patients' risk by nearly 10 percent as daily outdoor temperatures increase—a time when patients may be at highest risk due to loss of potassium while sweating.”
“The team found that across all temperatures, the potassium-taking group experienced a 9.3 percent lower risk of death than the group who did not take potassium. This survival benefit was also higher when daily maximum temperatures were higher.”
The patients involved in the study were taking loop diuretics, so it’s important to note that more research is needed and that you must discuss with your doctor what types of diuretics you are taking and if potassium supplementation is appropriate for you.
"It is also important to understand that our findings do not imply that more potassium is better, and do not imply that prescription potassium may be beneficial for all patients. Further studies are needed to find out the generalizability of our findings to other patient populations. The best way to reduce harmful effects of high temperatures on mortality might be to avoid exposure to high temperatures if possible.”
But if you are losing a lot of potassium through sweating or taking diuretics, delicious healthy foods you can include in your diet that are rich in potassium include avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach, watermelon, black beans, swiss chard, beets and pomegranates.
Also know that foods that may act as natural diuretics include hibiscus, dandelion, ginger and parsley. Alcohol and caffeine also have diuretic properties, but, of course, alcohol should never be viewed as a viable option for a diuretic alternative. Medicating with alcohol can be very detrimental to your health and deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals. Caffeine is also something that should be consumed in moderation, especially if you are have a slow caffeine metabolism.
Finally, it is highly advised to take routine nutrient tests. Doing this may determine if you have any nutrient imbalances, as in too much or too little of a particular vitamin or mineral. If you discover any imbalances, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and/or recommend quality supplements.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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