Low Potassium May Increase Diabetes Risk: Study

Low Potassium Diabetes Risk

A new study published in the journal PLOS-One found that having a low level of potassium in the blood may lead to the development of diabetes.

Previous studies have indicated as much—for example, one published in the journal Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2011 and another published in Archives of Internal Medicine in 2010—and this current study, led by Ranee Chatterjee of Duke University, sought to confirm these earlier findings, and to determine if ethnicity or genetics played a factor.

Researchers analyzed the data of 5,415 participants from several previous cohort studies (both US and international studies) and found that those with lower levels of potassium had higher levels of blood sugar. Of those 5,415 at-risk participants, 1,281 developed diabetes.

There was no significant correlation when it came to the ethnicity of the participants, and no significant association regarding long-term risk of diabetes. More research is needed to understand why this inverse association between glucose and potassium exists, and what effects it might have on human health.

Products containing potassium

Potassium is an important electrolyte that helps the communication between muscles and nerves, and also helps move both nutrients and waste to and from cells, respectively. Sodium, another electrolyte, has important functions in the body as well, but is more popularly known for its detrimental effects, as too much can lead to high blood pressure and a host of other potential problems. Potassium helps to offset those harmful effects.

While deficiencies in potassium are rare, most Americans don’t get the daily recommended amount from their diets (4,700 milligrams per day). The almighty banana is of course, the first food that comes to mind when considering sources of potassium, but there are many others, such as dairy, meat, poultry, fish, and nuts. Fruit and vegetable sources include, but are not limited to:

  • Beans;
  • Blackberries;
  • Broccoli;
  • Carrots;
  • Collard greens;
  • Cucumbers;
  • Eggplant;
  • Grapefruit;
  • Grapes;
  • Honeydew melons;
  • Molasses;
  • Oranges;
  • Potatoes;
  • Prunes;
  • Pumpkins;
  • Spinach;
  • Strawberries;
  • Yogurt


Chatterjee, R., “Potassium Measures and Their Associations with Glucose and Diabetes Risk: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA),” PLOS One, 2016; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0157252.

Chatterjee, R., “Potassium and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes,” Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2011; doi:10.1586/eem.11.60.

Chatterjee, R., “Serum and dietary potassium and risk of incident type 2 diabetes mellitus: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010; doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2010.362.

“Potassium,” Medline Plus web site; https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/potassium.html, last accessed June 10, 2016.