The level of Potassium (K) in hair does not reflect nutritional status or dietary intake. However, hair K levels may provide clinically relevant information pertaining to adrenal function and/or electrolyte balance.
K is an electrolyte and a potentiator of enzyme functions in cells, but neither of theses functions takes place in hair. K can be low in the body as the result of gastrointestinal or renal dysfunction, or as a side effect of some diuretics. In adrenocortical hyperactivity, blood levels of K are depressed, while urinary K is increased. Low hair K should be viewed as a screening test. Observations at DDI indicate that hair levels of sodium and K are commonly low in association with emotional stress. The low levels of sodium and K are frequently concomitant with high levels of calcium and magnesium in hair. This apparent ”emotional stress pattern” requires further investigation.
Symptoms of true K deficiency include:
- muscle weakness,
- and tachycardia.
Diabetic acidosis can result in severe K loss.
Confirmatory tests for K deficiency include measurements of packed red blood cell K; whole blood K and the sodium/K ratio; urine K and the sodium/K ratio. An electrocardiogram may show abnormalities when K is low in serum/plasma or whole blood.
High hair Potassium (K) is not necessarily reflective of dietary intake or nutrient status. However, elevated Potassium may be reflective of metabolic disorders associated with exposure to potentially toxic elements. Potassium is an electrolyte and a potentiator of enzyme functions, but neither of these functions take place in hair. Elevated Potassium in hair may reflect overall retention of Potassium by the body or maldistribution of this element. In adrenocortical insufficiency, Potassium is increased in blood, while it is decreased in urine; cellular Potassium may or may not be increased. Also, hair is occasionally contaminated with Potassium from some shampoos.
Potassium and sodium levels in hair are commonly high in association with toxic element burden. The elevated Potassium and sodium levels are often concomitant with low levels of calcium and magnesium in hair. This apparent phenomena requires further investigation. Elevated hair potassium should be viewed as a screening test. Appropriate tests for excess body Potassium include measurements of packed red blood cell Potassium; serum or whole blood Potassium and sodium/Potassium ratio, measurement of urine Potassium and sodium/Potassium ratio; and an assessment of adrenocortical function.
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