The American Journal of Digestive Diseases

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 145–158 | Cite as

Potassium metabolism and gastrointestinal function; a review

A semiquantitative approach
  • Richard P. Spencer


The relationship of potassium to gastrointestinal function has been discussed, and quantitative expressions have been introduced in areas where such data are available. On an average diet, 77 mEq. of potassium are ingested, and 7 mEq. excreted in the feces. The daily absorption amounts to 2.2 per cent of exchangeable potassium.

Potassium is transported in both directions across the intestinal mucosa. Average concentrations of potassium are: gastrointestinal contents 16 mEq./L., mucosal cells 130 mEq./L., and extracellular fluid 5 mEq./L. An energy change involved in potassium absorption and factors influencing absorption have been described. Quantitative aspects of potassium uptake and excretion by the gut have been presented (Appendix), and the mucosal cells have been shown to be efficient in their handling of the cation. Other diseases which alter potassium levels and hence influence gastrointestinal function have been discussed.

The clinical significance of altered potassium stores in terms of gastrointestinal function has been pointed out and the therapeutic aspects discussed.


Potassium Energy Change Intestinal Mucosa Extracellular Fluid Average Diet 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Talbot, N. B.,et al. Application of homeostatic principles to the management of nephritic patients.New England J. Med. 255:655, 1956.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Smith, F. H. Potassium deficiency in gastrointestinal disease.Gastroenterology 16:73, 1950.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Owen, R. B. The measurement of radioactivity in the human body by NaI-thallium scintillation counters. Atomic Energy Research Establishment, England, Harwell, Berks. A.E.R.E. EL/R, 1851. 1956.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Corsa, L., Jr.,et al. The measurement of exchangeable potassium in man by isotope dilution.J. Clin. Invest. 29:1280, 1950.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hastings, A. B. The electrolytes of tissues and body fluids.Harvey Lectures, 1940–1941, pp. 91–125.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Visscher, M. B. The absorption and excretion of potassium in the intestine.Journal Lancet 73:173, 1953.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Gamble, J. L. Chemical anatomy, physiology, and pathology of extracellular fluid. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard, 1950.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bernstein, R. E. The potassium, sodium, and calcium content of gastric juice: I. Normal values.J. Lab. & Clin. Med. 40:707, 1952.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Lockwood, J. S., andRandall, H. T. The place of electrolyte studies in surgical patients.Bull. N. Y. Acad. Med. 25:228, 1949.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Edelman, I. S., andSweet, N. J. Gastrointestinal water and electrolytes: II. The equilibration of radiopotassium in gastrointestinal contents and the proportion of exchangeable potassium (Ke) in the gastrointestinal tract.J. Clin. Invest. 35:512, 1956.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Spencer, R. P. Clearance by alimentary lumen cells.U. S. Armed Forces Med. J. 7:997, 1956.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Visscher, M. B. “Transport of Water and Electrolyte Across Intestinal Epithelia.” InMurphy, Q. R. Metabolic aspects of transport across cell membranes. Madison, Wis., Univ. Wisconsin Press, 1957, pp. 57–71.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Dennis, C., andWood, E. H. Intestinal absorption in the adrenalectomized dog.Am. J. Physiol. 129:182, 1940.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Woodbury, D. M. Extrarenal effects of desoxycorticosterone, adrenocortical extract and adrenocorticotrophic hormone on plasma and tissue electrolytes in fed and fasted rats.Am. J. Physiol. 174:1, 1953.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Berger, E. Y., Quinn, G. P., Homer, M. A. Effect of desoxycorticosterone on colon: Its relation to action of cation exchange resins in man.Proc. Soc. Exper. Biol. & Med. 76:601, 1951.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Emerson, K., Jr., Kahn, S. S., andJenkins, D. The role of the gastrointestinal tract in the adaptation of the body to prevention of sodium depletion by cation exchange resins.Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sc. 57:280, 1953.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Poutsiaka, J. W., Thomas, B. G. H., andLinegar, C. R. Effect of fluorohydrocortisone on gastrointestinal and renal excretion of cations by the dog.Proc. Soc. Exper. Biol. & Med. 96:712, 1957.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Lillehei, W. C., andWangensteen, O. H. Bowel function after colectomy for cancer, polyps, and diverticulitis.J.A.M.A. 159:163, 1955.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Lubran, M., andMcAllen, P. M. Potassium deficiency in idiopathic steatorrhea.Lancet 1:321, 1951.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Comfort, M. W.,et al. Non tropical sprue: Observations on absorption and metabolism.Gastroenterology 23:155, 1953.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Burnell, J. M.,et al. The effect in humans of extracellular pH change on the relationship between serum potassium concentration and intracellular potassium.J. Clin. Invest. 35:935, 1956.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Widdowson, E. M., andMcCance, R. A. The effect of development on the composition of the serum and extracellular fluids.Clin. Sc. 15:361, 1956.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Althausen, T. L., andStockholm, M. Influence of the thyroid gland on absorption in the digestive tract.Am. J. Physiol. 123:577, 1938.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Meyer, J. H.,et al. Effect of dietary levels of sodium and potassium on growth and on concentration in blood plasma and tissues of white rat.Am. J. Physiol. 162:182, 1950.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Cannon, P. R., Frazier, L. E., andHughes, R. H. Influence of potassium on tissue protein synthesis.Metabolism 1:49, 1952.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Harrison, H. E.,et al. Potassium deficiency in a case of lymphosarcoma with the sprue syndrome.Am. J. Med. 2:131, 1947.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Visscher, M. B.,et al. Sodium ion movement between the intestinal lumen and the blood.Am. J. Physiol. 141:488, 1944.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Dunning, M. F., andPlum, F. Potassium depletion by enemas.Am. J. Med. 20:789, 1956.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Bellet, S.,et al. Effect of vomiting due to intestinal obstruction on the serum potassium.Am. J. Med. 6:712, 1949.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Black, D. A. K., andMilne, M. D. Experimental potassium depletion in man.Journal Lancet 72:244, 1952.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Plum, F., andDunning, M. F. Enema-induced potassium loss in patients with diseases of the spinal cord and cauda equina.Am. J. Med. Sc. 233:387, 1957.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Schwartz, W. B., andRelman, A. S. Metabolic and renal studies in chronic potassium depletion resulting from overuse of laxatives.J. Clin. Invest. 32:258, 1953.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Relman, A. S., andSchwartz, W. B. The nephropathy of potassium depletion.New England J. Med. 255:195, 1956.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Smith, W. H. Potassium lack in post-gastrectomy dumping syndrome.Lancet 2:745, 1951.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Kleiman, A., andGrant, A. R. Role of K in pathogenesis and treatment of post-gastrectomy dumping syndrome.Surg. Forum 4:296, 1953.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Loughlin, J. F. Quadriplegia, hypopotassemia and hyperchloremic acidosis after bilateral ureterosigmoidostomy.New England J. Med. 254:329, 1956.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Wilder, C. E., andCotton, R. T. Reabsorptive hyperchloremic acidosis following ureterosigmoidostomy: Report of a severe case showing disturbed carbohydrate metabolism.Am. J. Med. 15:423, 1953.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Conn, J. W.,et al. Intermittent aldosteronism in periodic paralysis.Lancet 1:802, 1957.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Gass, H., Cherasky, M., andSavitsky, N. Potassium and periodic paralysis.Medicine 27:105, 1948.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Painter, R. C. Sporadic (periodic) paralysis.New England J. Med. 252:213, 1955.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Gelhorn, E., andSkupa, A. The K-Ca antagonism in regard to absorption from the intestine.Am. J. Physiol. 106:318, 1933.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Gamstorp, I.,et al. Adynamia episodica hereditaria: A disease clinically resembling familial periodic paralysis but characterized by increasing serum potassium during the paralytic attacks.Am. J. Med. 23:385, 1957.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Henrikson, H. W. Effect of potassium deficiency on gastrointestinal mobility in rats.Am. J. Physiol. 164:263, 1951.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Streeten, D. H. P., andWilliams, E. M. V. Loss of cellular potassium as a cause of intestinal paralysis in dogs.J. Physiol. 118:149, 1952.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Randall, H. T.,et al. Potassium deficiency in surgical patients.Surgery 26:341, 1949.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Elliel, L. P., Pearson, O. H., andRawson, R. W. Postoperative potassium deficit and metabolic alkalosis.New England J. Med. 243:471, 1950.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Schlesinger, B. Hypokalemia and paralytic ileus in gastroenteritis.Arch. franç. pediat. 10:178, 1953.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Schlesinger, B., Payne, W., andBlack, J. Potassium metabolism in gastroenteritis.Quart. J. Med. 24:33, 1955.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Holman, M. E. The effect of changes in potassium chloride concentration on the membrane potential, electrical activity and tension of intestinal smooth muscle.J. Physiol. 137:77, 1957.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Born, G. V. R., andBulbring, E. The movement of potassium between smooth muscle and the surrounding fluid.J. Physiol. 131:609, 1956.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Surawicz, B.,et al. Clinical manifestations of hypopotassemia.Am. J. Med. Sc. 233:603, 1957.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Riklis, E., andQuastel, J. H. Effects of cations on sugar absorption by isolated surviving guinea pig intestine.Canad. J. Biochem. Physiol. 36:347, 1958.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul B. Hoeber, Inc. 1959

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard P. Spencer
    • 1
  1. 1.Medical Sciences DivisionHarvard UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations