What Is the Difference between Vitamin K and Potassium?

Clara Kedrek
Clara Kedrek
Prunes contain potassium.
Prunes contain potassium.

Although vitamin K and potassium could be confused with each other because potassium is often abbreviated by its elemental symbol K, the two substances differ both in their chemical makeup and their functions in the body. Whereas potassium plays a critical role in maintaining the correct amount of fluid in different parts of the body, vitamin K is important in helping the body to make clotting proteins and in promoting the maintenance of strong bones. The two substances are obtained from different foods in the diet, cause different symptoms if deficient in the body, and cause distinct problems if taken in excess.

Bananas are a good source of potassium.
Bananas are a good source of potassium.

Potassium is a substance that serves a number of functions in the body. It is present in the blood and in other fluids in the body. Often it is considered to be an electrolyte because it has a positive charge and is important in maintaining the correct amount of fluids within different areas of the body. In contrast, vitamin K is a complex molecule that helps facilitate a number of important reactions within the body, such as the creation of different clotting proteins and the maintenance of healthy bones.

Green peas are high in both vitamin K and potassium.
Green peas are high in both vitamin K and potassium.

Both vitamin K and potassium are important parts of a healthy diet, but the two substances are found in different types of food. Potassium is found in a variety of foods, including sweet potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, clams, spinach, prunes, apricots, oranges, yogurt, peas, and beans. Vitamin K can be found in diverse foods including leafy green vegetables, broccoli, vegetable oils, and parsley.

Curly endive, which contains vitamin K.
Curly endive, which contains vitamin K.

Overdoses of vitamin K and potassium can both be dangerous, but the symptoms caused by ingesting too much of each substance are different. Excess potassium intake can cause symptoms such as fatal heart arrhythmias, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. Too much vitamin K can cause patients to have an increased risk of liver dysfunction and low red blood cells counts. Patients with either of these conditions should receive medical attention because they are at risk for developing dangerous side effects.

White beans, which are a good source of potassium.
White beans, which are a good source of potassium.

Taking in too little vitamin K and potassium is also dangerous, and deficiencies of the two substances cause different types of symptoms. Low levels of potassium in the body can cause constipation, muscle weakness, cardiac arrhythmias, and muscle cramps. Not having enough vitamin K in the body can lead to an increased risk of developing excessive bleeding from minor cuts and wounds.

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Discussion Comments

turquoise

Even though these are different substances that serve different purposes, I think that there are vitamin K sources that also have potassium, like meat. Vitamin K and potassium are important nutrients for those with high blood pressure. I have to get enough of both to reduce the effects of sodium in my body. Too much sodium raises blood pressure.

ysmina

@ddljohn-- That's a good question. I'm not sure why chemists decided to use "K" for potassium on the periodic table of elements. As far as I know though, vitamin K is not on the table. There is only one "K" and that is potassium.

There might be some confusion about this but no doctor or other medical expert will confuse them. Vitamin K is only called vitamin K. It is not abbreviated further. So when "K" is mentioned, it can only be potassium. If medical mistakes have taken place due to this confusion, I'm sure it's rare.

Vitamin K and potassium really have nothing to do with each other. They are completely different as the article described.

ddljohn

Why is the abbreviation for potassium "K" when it has nothing to do with vitamin K? Won't it cause unnecessary confusion? What if someone who needs vitamin K is given potassium by accident or vice versa?

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    • Prunes contain potassium.
      Prunes contain potassium.
    • Bananas are a good source of potassium.
      By: Nikolai Sorokin
      Bananas are a good source of potassium.
    • Green peas are high in both vitamin K and potassium.
      By: sevenk
      Green peas are high in both vitamin K and potassium.
    • Curly endive, which contains vitamin K.
      By: ExQuisine
      Curly endive, which contains vitamin K.
    • White beans, which are a good source of potassium.
      By: Schlierner
      White beans, which are a good source of potassium.