(BeWellBuzz) Electrolytes are important elements and compounds needed by our body cells. Chemically, electrolytes are substances that become ions in solution and acquire the capacity to conduct electricity. In a balanced amount, they help maintain the numerous functions of the millions of cells in the human body. Without these electrolytes, our muscles won’t be able to move, our nerves will have trouble sending communication to and from the brain, and the rest of bodily functions can become so dysregulated that it makes possible for vital organs to shut down.
What is an electrolyte?
Electrolyte is a medical term for ions. Ions, as you may know, are of the following two types:
Positively-charged ions move toward the cathode, while negatively-charged ions move towards the anode. An electrolyte, in simplest terms, is used for defining any substance that contains free ions to conduct electricity.
The human body and electrolytes
We cannot exist without electrolytes. In fact, no higher form of life can survive without them.
Our body fluids such as blood, interstitial fluid or tissue fluid (solution that surrounds our cells), and plasma contain electrolytes. These body fluids contain the following electrolytes:
- Sodium (Na+)
- Calcium (Ca2+)
- Potassium (K+)
- Magnesium (Mg2+)
- Bicarbonate (HCO3–)
- Chloride (C1–)
- Hydrogen carbonate (HCO3–)
- Hydrogen phosphate (HPO42-)
Electrolytes regulate important body functions such as:
- Nerve and muscle function
- Rebuilding of tissues that are damaged
- Blood pressure
- Blood pH levels
To contract, our muscles require sodium, calcium, and potassium. In case the levels of these are below normal, our muscles become too weak. Similarly, if the levels are above normal, muscle contractions can be too severe.
The other important function electrolytes have is to regulate muscle and nerve function. Our nerve cells and muscle cells require electrolytes for maintaing voltage across the cell membranes. This allows the cells to transport electrical impulses to other cells.
Regulation of electrolytes in the human body
The human body needs to maintain the levels of electrolytes. The kidney and other hormones play a vital role in regulating electrolyte levels.
Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance
The most common type of electrolyte imbalance are hyperkalemia (too much potassium), hypokalemia (too little potassium), hypernatremia (too much sodium), hyponatremia (too little sodium), hypercalcemia (too much calcium), and hypocalcemia (too little calcium).
The symptoms of electrolyte imbalance depend on the electrolyte that is out of balance. For instance, symptoms of hypercalcemia may be different from those of hypernatremia. That said, in case of electrolyte imbalance, you will experience one or more of the below-mentioned symptoms:
- Muscle weakness and/or general weakness
- Muscle spasm
- Fast or slow heartbeat
- Changes in blood pressure
What causes electrolyte imbalance
One of the most common cause electrolyte depletion, particularly potassium and sodium, is excessive sweating. When you sweat profusely, for instance during and after exercise, the body loses electrolytes through sweat. That is why people who play sports or exercises regularly need to drink fluids, such as sports drinks, which contain electrolytes. However, excessive use of sports drinks is not recommended because they usually contain sugar and artificial flavors that may be harmful.
If you regularly play sports or exercise, you must either consume electrolyte-enriched drinks that do not contain sugar, such as Alacer Electro Mix Natural, or consume electrolyte-rich foods, such as apples, oranges, or tomatoes, in larger quantities.
Chronic diarrhea or vomiting can also lead to electrolyte imbalance. To prevent seizures and dehydration that can occur due to loss of electrolytes, you must replenish them quickly. For this, you will need to drink fluids that contain electrolytes.
In addition to the above, other situations in which electrolyte imbalance may occur include the following:
- Kidney disorder
- Cancer treatment
- Use of certain drugs like ACE inhibitors or diuretics
- Heart failure
Electrolyte imbalance and gerontology
Elderly people are more vulnerable to electrolyte imbalance. The primary reason for this is poor kidney function. As we age, our kidneys do not work as well as they used to do in our younger years. This is why elderly people must take proper precautions to prevent electrolyte imbalance. To prevent electrolyte imbalance, it is essential that you keep yourself properly hydrated all the time.
Foods that are rich in electrolytes
While there are many drinks available that replenish electrolytes, the best way of maintaining optimal electrolyte level is by eating foods that are rich in electrolytes.
Here are the names of foods that you can eat to maintain electrolyte balance in the body:
- Fruits – Most fruits are rich in electrolytes. These include apples, peaches, oranges, melons, and bananas.
- Vegetables – Besides offering antioxidants and other nutrients, vegetables, in general, are rich in electrolytes. These include spinach, squash, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, peas, red onions, sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, and Brussels sprouts.
- Beans – Mung, red, lima, pinto and white beans are an excellent source of mineral-rich electrolytes.
- Whole grains – Whole grains are particularly rich in electrolytes such as magnesium and calcium.
- Meat and seafood – Pork, sardines, and beef are rich in chloride. Chicken contains high amounts of calcium as soon as they are organic.
To summarize, electrolytes are essential for maintaining numerous bodily functions, and their deficiency and excess can cause various health issues. The best way to keep electrolyte balance in check is by through sugar-free, electrolyte-rich drinks or natural foods.