Can You Take Sodium and Potassium Together?

<p>Guillermo Spelucin / Getty Images</p>

Guillermo Spelucin / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Fisher, RD

Sodium and potassium are two electrolytes (electrically charged minerals) critical for many bodily functions. They help balance the amounts of fluids inside and outside cells, support the heart, help your body release energy from food, and support many chemical processes.

In the U.S., most people get more sodium and less potassium in their diet than recommended. People with a higher intake of sodium than potassium have an increased risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and related conditions like heart attack. So for many people, it may be helpful to increase potassium and decrease sodium.

However, if you’ve recently lost fluids—maybe through vomiting, diarrhea, or lots of sweating from athletic exertion—you may need to take in more potassium and sodium to replenish what you lost. A healthcare provider might recommend you take sodium and potassium together through supplements or an electrolyte drink. Doing so can treat dehydration while preventing problems from electrolyte imbalances.

Benefits of Sodium

Sodium plays important roles in regulating water balance; participating in energy metabolism; and sending signals in the brain, muscles, and heart.

Most of the time, people don’t need sodium supplements because they are getting more sodium than they need from what they eat and drink. But in specific circumstances, you might temporarily need additional sodium. Such is the case with hyponatremia.

Hyponatremia is when the concentration of sodium in your blood drops. Your kidneys usually do a good job regulating the amount of sodium in your blood—even if you’ve been taking in more than you need through your diet—but hyponatremia may occur if you have fluid loss through diarrhea or vomiting or use diuretics (medications that reduce fluid buildup in the body).

Depending on its severity and how quickly it occurs, hyponatremia can cause mild-to-severe symptoms ranging from fatigue, vomiting, headache, and muscle cramps to more serious symptoms such as seizures and coma.

Sometimes it makes sense to try to prevent hyponatremia from occurring by having some sodium—typically via a beverage—after fluid loss.

Benefits of Potassium

Because potassium plays so many different roles in the body, having low levels may increase your risks of certain illnesses. That means taking in enough potassium may help prevent certain conditions.

The link between hypertension and low intake of potassium is well-established. Because hypertension is connected to risks of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease, getting enough potassium may help prevent these conditions.

Researchers have also explored the potential role of potassium in other conditions, though the evidence isn’t as clear. For example, a higher intake of potassium may decrease your risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes.

Ideally, you’d try to get enough potassium through your diet since the role of potassium supplements in these conditions is not as straightforward.

Similar to sodium, potassium is important in circumstances where you’ve lost a lot of fluids. In some situations, taking in extra potassium may help prevent a condition called hypokalemia (low potassium in the blood), which can cause symptoms like muscle spasms and abnormal heart rhythms.

Benefits of Taking Sodium and Potassium Together

You don’t typically need to take sodium and potassium together since you likely already take in more sodium through your diet than ideal.

However, people who have lost a lot of fluids can benefit from drinks that contain sodium, potassium, as well as sugar since sugar improves absorption. Drinking water alone to replace large fluid losses may sometimes worsen issues like hyponatremia. Since key electrolytes have also been lost with fluid loss, a product containing both sodium and potassium electrolytes would be best.

That’s why it’s helpful for people who’ve lost a lot of fluids through vomiting, diarrhea, excess sweating or severe burns to use drinks like Gatorade or Pedialyte. The sodium- and potassium-containing drinks can help prevent electrolyte abnormalities and treat dehydration.

Replacing both sodium and potassium may be particularly important in children, older adults, adults with weakened immune systems, or anyone with severe signs of dehydration or severe fluid loss.

People who have potential symptoms of hyponatremia, hypokalemia, or severe dehydration should be treated in a medical setting. There, healthcare professionals can assess your electrolyte concentrations and other fluids in your body and carefully replace what is needed.

Benefits of Decreasing Sodium While Increasing Potassium

For many people, it makes sense to both decrease sodium intake and increase potassium intake on a regular basis. High sodium and low potassium increase the risk of high blood pressure and problems related to it, such as heart attack and stroke. The ratio of the two minerals may be more important than the level of either alone, so you’ll get the best effect if you target both mineral levels.

How To Take a Combination of Sodium and Potassium

In the context of fluid loss, you’d probably be taking your sodium and potassium as part of pre-made solutions that contain sodium, potassium, sugar, and water.

These products vary in the amount of sodium, potassium, and sugar they contain. A product like Gatorade, marketed for use in exercise, has relatively more sugar and fewer electrolytes than products that are marketed for use in illness, such as Pedialyte.

Depending on the circumstances, it might be best to alternate the electrolyte drinks with water. However, that can depend. For example, during extreme endurance activities, people often over hydrate by drinking too much water, which can lead to hyponatremia and hypokalemia. For less extreme exercise, many people don’t need electrolyte replacement at all.

Sodium and potassium are both also available as tablet supplements. Potassium is most often available in the form of potassium chloride.

Dosage in Electrolyte Drinks

Healthcare professionals debate the ideal amounts of sodium and potassium needed to replace fluids. The dosage may depend on factors like your age and overall health.

Electrolyte drinks provide different amounts of sodium and potassium. For example, a 12-ounce serving of Pedialyte contains 370 milligrams (mg) of sodium and 280 mg of potassium. In contrast, a similar serving of Gatorade contains roughly 160 mg of sodium and 50 mg of potassium. Some products also contain lesser amounts of other electrolytes, like calcium, magnesium, or zinc.

Electrolyte tablets or powders designed to be added to your own water are also available. Other options are electrolyte chews, which contain sodium, potassium, and sugar but no additional water.

Dosage in Supplements

Almost everyone gets more salt than they need. The body only needs around 500 mg (about 1/4 teaspoon) of sodium daily to function well. Because research on sodium supplements is limited, there is not enough information for experts to determine what a typical sodium supplement dosage is.

Sodium tablet supplements are available, and athletes sometimes use them during extreme endurance activities like marathons. However, it’s not clear whether the supplements truly help prevent problems like muscle cramps or low sodium. If hydrating for fluid loss, you’d probably want a product that includes potassium, usually with water.

Many people in the U.S. consume less potassium than recommended. An adequate daily intake of potassium is 3,400 mg for men and 2,600 mg for women. However, adults and children 4 or older should probably get closer to 4,700 mg of potassium a day.

Using potassium supplements alone is a reasonable option for some people. However, most manufacturers only sell supplements that contain 99 mg of potassium or less, which is much lower than recommended daily amounts.

At such low doses, it’s probably better for most people to try to get extra potassium by eating more fruits and vegetables instead of potassium supplements. For example, a banana contains more than four times the amount of potassium found in most over-the-counter supplements.

Is It Safe to Take Sodium and Potassium Together?

For most people, it’s safe to take sodium and potassium together in an oral rehydration drink to replace lost fluids.

In terms of supplements, you have to consider how much sodium or potassium you're already taking in through your diet.

Most people can safely take potassium supplements. However, some people, including those with advanced kidney disease, need to be more cautious with potassium intake. That includes intake from not only supplements, but also high-potassium foods.

People with congestive heart failure or hypertension should limit the amount of sodium they consume. The amount of sodium in a sports drink is unlikely to make a big difference unless you consume them frequently.

Potential Drug Interactions

Sodium and potassium supplements can interact with medications. In some cases, the electrolytes might impact the effectiveness or safety of a drug. Certain medications can increase or decrease your sodium or potassium levels.

Some drugs might increase the risk of a dangerous condition called hyperkalemia, in which potassium levels get too high in your blood. Drugs that can have this effect include:

  • Angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, like Zestril (lisinopril)

  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), like Cozaar (losartan)

  • Potassium-sparing diuretics, like Midamor (amiloride)

Other drugs that can potentially interact with sodium and/or potassium include:

  • Loop diuretics, like Lasix (furosemide)

  • Thiazide diuretics, like Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide)

  • Certain laxatives, like Dulcolax (bisacodyl)

  • Certain antibiotics, like penicillin

  • Corticosteroids, like prednisone

  • Antidepressants, like Prozac (fluoxetine)

You still may be able to take these drugs safely, but talk to your healthcare provider about the best ways to manage any risks.

What To Look For

For correcting fluid loss, your healthcare provider may make a specific recommendation as to how you should replace them. Especially for a child with significant fluid loss, it’s better to use a product specifically designed for this purpose instead of one marketed for athletic performance.

If your healthcare provider recommends supplements, they might give you a prescription. If you are buying an over-the-counter product, check for a label that indicates a third party has tested the product for quality and safety. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) are two examples of third-party testers you might see.

Can You Have Too Much Sodium or Potassium?

It is possible to have too much sodium or potassium.

At the extreme, taking in too much sodium can contribute to a medical condition called hypernatremia, in which the concentration of sodium in your blood is higher than it should be. This can cause irritability and extreme thirst and, if severe, decreased consciousness and coma.

Similarly, taking in too much potassium could be a factor in hyperkalemia (high levels of potassium in the blood). Hyperkalemia can cause shortness of breath and sometimes life-threatening heart rhythm problems.

The amounts of each mineral taken in through a sports drink would likely not be enough to cause these complications.

However, even in amounts that don’t cause hypernatremia, sodium can have negative effects like higher blood pressure and increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

It's recommended younger adults should get less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily and adults 51 or older get less than 1,500 mg. People with underlying health conditions, like kidney disease or high blood pressure, should further limit their sodium intake.

Federal agencies don’t set an official limit on the amount of potassium a healthy person should have since most people can excrete any extra potassium through their urine. However, people with kidney disease, adrenal disorders, or diabetes need to be more cautious with potassium, as should people taking certain medications such as ACE inhibitors.

Side Effects of Taking a Combination of Sodium and Potassium

Sodium and potassium are both generally well-tolerated. For potassium, the most common side effects are abdominal pain, burping, diarrhea, gas, nausea, and vomiting. Taking sodium along with potassium doesn’t tend to increase side effects of either one.

At the doses you’d be taking in a sports drink, you’d be unlikely to notice any side effects from sodium or potassium.

A Quick Review

Sodium and potassium are two electrolytes critical for proper functioning. After losing fluids, such as through vomit or diarrhea, it’s often helpful to drink preparations that contain sodium and potassium to improve hydration and prevent electrolyte abnormalities. Otherwise, you likely don't need to take sodium and potassium together. While many people get less potassium than ideal from their diet, most people get more than enough sodium. Rather than supplementing with sodium, you might be better off trying to limit your sodium intake. A healthcare provider can advise what's best for you based on your current levels and dietary habits.

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