Potassium chloride, a major constituent of plant and animal cells, is an essential constituent of the body and is rapidly adjusted to homeostatic levels following ingestion in amounts that can be tolerated without causing nausea and vomiting. The amount of potassium chloride added to food by processors in 1975 was of the order of 20 mg daily on a per capita basis while the amount of potassium in the average diet was equivalent to 4 to 9g of potassium chloride. Review of the available information reveals that under clinical conditions, fatal or serious toxic reactions to potassium chloride rarely occur. An occasional complication from concentrated potassium chloride tablets given orally is ulceration of the small intestine.
The available evidence indicates that in normal individuals potassium chloride is well tolerated, and that metabolism quickly and efficiently adjusts potassium in the body to narrow homeostatic levels. Certain health conditions are known to affect the normal homeostatic control of sodium and potassium metabolism, and patients with these conditions must adjust their diets to avoid proscribed electrolyte intakes.
Water intake, efficiency of the kidney, and the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet are interrelated factors that must be evaluated in considering the health aspects of changing the relative intakes of sodium chloride and potassium chloride. Potassium chloride could be substituted for sodium chloride in some of its applications; however, the unpleasant taste of substantial amounts of potassium chloride, in the absence of sodium chloride, makes this improbable. Thus, the Select Committee believes that the extensive substitution of potassium chloride, which might increase its per capita usage from 20 mg to 2 g or more, is unlikely. If this degree of substitution were made, the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet would be reduced from the current value of approximately 1.4 to a value nearer 0.9 in a 2600 kcal diet which would provide about 160mg potassium and 140mg sodium per 100kcal. By replacing some sodium containing ingredients with ingredients that provide other cations and by increasing the consumption of foods lower in sodium content, it is probable that reduced sodium intakes would be a more important factor than increased consumption of potassium in lowering this ratio. Available data do not provide cause for concern in this regard. Nevertheless, the following conclusion of the Select Committee is premised on the continued monitoring of the sodium and potassium content of the U.S. diet and contingent upon periodic review of the health aspects of using potassium chloride as a food ingredient.
In view of the foregoing, the Select Committee concludes that: There is no evidence in the available information on potassium chloride that demonstrates or suggests reasonable grounds to suspect a hazard to the public when it is used at levels that are now current or that might reasonably be expected in the future.