The high potassium content in coconut water, which is one of its most valued health benefits, can cause harm to the health at the same time.
A study under the title “Death by Coconut,” published in Circulation, contains the work of Justin Hakimian, MD, and his team at the Department of Cardiology, New York Hospital Queens.
Namely, they depict the case of a man in his 42nd year of life, who experienced abnormal heart rhythms and frequent fainting after consuming lots of coconut water, due to the extremely high levels of potassium.
This man spent his day playing tennis in temperatures in excess of 90° F, and consumed 8 11-ounce bottles of coconut water. Suddenly, he felt lightheaded, and shortly lost consciousness.
Due to his weak state, an ambulance brought him to the emergency department, and was found to have a low heart rate and low blood pressure, and was completely disoriented.
Dangers of too much potassium
This unfortunate man was experiencing the classic signs of too much potassium in the blood. The body needs a delicate balance of potassium to help the heart and other muscles work properly.
Most Americans consume too little potassium, which is mostly found in fruits and vegetables. Nevertheless, consuming a large amount in a relatively short period of time can lead to dangerous, and possibly deadly, changes in heart rhythm.
Namely, elevated potassium levels lead to life-threatening heart rhythm changes, as well as ventricular fibrillation, which is an emergency state in which the heart’s lower parts instead of pumping blood, flutter with an increased speed.
In the case this condition is not treated on time, it may cause a stop of the heart beating, leading to death.
Thus, the Institute of Medicine has set an adequate potassium daily intake at 4,700 mg for adults, but the upper limit has not been set, so it is still unclear how much potassium can be safely consumed.
Yet, it has been found that in high amounts, it can be deadly. The amounts of potassium may be increased due to decreased excretion, excessive intake, or a combination of these two.
However, the excessive high potassium levels are especially dangerous in the case of certain medical conditions, or in the case of some specific drug therapy, which additionally raise the levels of potassium.
Moreover, the levels of potassium may be elevated due to:
- breakdown of muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis)
- breakdown of red blood cells (hemolysis)
- uncontrolled diabetes
- Addison’s disease (adrenal failure)
- medications like beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and some antibiotics such as penicillin
- burns and trauma
- kidney disease
The man whose case has been explained in the study was discovered to have muscle tissue breakdown (rhabdomyolysis). This condition is a result of muscle exertion, as a result of endurance exercise, strenuous exercise, and exercise in hot, humid conditions.
This condition leads to kidney damage. According to the doctors, the patient has consumed 5,500 mg of potassium through the 8 servings of coconut water, so the potassium in them, added to the one released from the muscle fibers after the prolonged tennis matches, led to his hospitalization.
Luckily, this man recovered with a temporary pacemaker, and three days in the hospital. The work of his heart was normalized, the levels of potassium were regulated, and the kidneys and muscles started to function properly again.
Yet, the danger high potassium levels pose to people as a result of lots of coconut water has been discussed in many other studies as well.
Therefore, people with kidney diseases or heart issues should avoid excessive consumption of this water, especially after a severe dehydration. This includes cases in which the body loses electrolytes, due to prolonged, hard workout, sport in the heat, or severe diarrhea.
The reason for this is that the concentration and electrolytes in the coconut water are not in the perfect balance in order to rehydrate the body properly in such situations.
On the other hand, coconut water is extremely beneficial for most people. This natural drink hydrates the body, quenches the thirst, and provides high amounts of minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Coconut water also effectively treats high blood pressure.
Hence, you should limit the intake of it to a couple of serving daily and enjoy its benefits. Moreover, non-athletes should drink plain water as the best beverage during and after exercising.