Potassium is a “hidden,” yet great, bone builder due to its role in protecting bone from the ravages of metabolic acidosis. As it occurs, the typical Western diet leads to an accumulation of excess acids in the body. These acids must be buffered (i.e., neutralized) for the body system to maintain its all important acid-alkaline, pH balance.
Without a precise, slightly alkaline blood pH, the body cannot survive. To maintain this essential minute-to-minute pH balance the body first looks to the blood, tissues, and extracellular fluids for buffering compounds. When these are exhausted, the body readily draws alkaline mineral compound reserves from bone to buffer these life-threatening metabolic acids. Potassium in the form of potassium citrate from vegetables and fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds is the major dietary source of acid neutralizing alkaline compounds.
It is interesting to note that the RDA for potassium is 4,700 mg, nearly six times that of calcium. The average adult intake, however, is only 2,300 mg for women and 3,250 mg for men. Several studies have documented that bone loss in menopausal women can be halted by neutralizing low-grade chronic metabolic acids with potassium. If you are interested in these studies, see the research articles cited below.
Potassium plays an essential role in neutralizing metabolic acids. In this capacity, it protects bone. With adequate dietary potassium intake, the skeleton does not need to sacrifice itself in order for the body to maintain systemic pH balance. Given this important fact, it is likely that dietary potassium is as important as dietary calcium for long-term bone strength.
Brown, S.E. and Jaffe, R. 2000. Acid-alkaline balance and its effect on bone health. International Journal of Integrative Medicine, 2(6), 7-15.
Frassetto, L. et al. 2005. Long-term persistence of the urine calcium-lowering effect of potassium bicarbonate in post-menopausal women. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 90(2), 831-834.