Importance of Electrolytes
Luke Coutinho

Luke Coutinho
27 May 2020

This article is authored by Luke Coutinho. Luke is a globally renowned and award winning Holistic Lifestyle Coach in the field of Integrative Medicine.

Electrolytes are crucial chemicals in the body that are needed to sustain imperative body functions. They help conduct nerve impulses, maintain acid-base balance, contract muscles, keep the body hydrated, and control the pH levels in the body. They’re found in the blood, urine, and sweat of the body.

What do you understand by electrolytes?

Did you know that electrolytes are as important as water for your body? Just like the cells, proteins, glucose, the fluid in the body contains electrolytes. But what exactly are electrolytes, and what functions do they perform for your body? This article is a sneak view about electrolytes, their essential functions, what is electrolyte imbalance, what are the causes of electrolyte imbalances that eventually lead to symptoms of electrolyte imbalance.

Electrolytes are chemicals in the body required to manage different bodily functions and processes, they usually come from the diet and liquids one consumes, and henceforth, one is always advised to take an adequate amount of diet and liquid to maintain a balance of electrolytes in the body for its better functioning. Electrolytes differentiate into positively and negatively charged ions when dissolved in water. The exchange of these ions in and out of the cells is a requisite for nerve and muscle function. Primary examples of electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate.

These common electrolytes play distinguished roles for the body which are as follows:

Sodium electrolyte helps to regulate fluids content in the body eventually affecting blood pressure, it is also essential for nerve function and muscles. Calcium is quite a vital electrolyte for the movement of muscles and nerve impetus, it’s also a cardinal element of teeth and bones.

Potassium electrolyte helps in transmitting nerve impetus. Magnesium electrolyte assists in maintaining heartbeat and is also crucial for the production of RNA & DNA. Bicarbonate electrolyte contributes to maintaining pH level and regulating heart function.

Electrolyte Imbalance - Causes & Symptoms

The fluctuation of electrolyte levels in the body is completely natural but this fluctuation can cause an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. The most crucial electrolyte imbalance involves inequalities in the levels of calcium, sodium, and potassium. The kidney is the key role player in maintaining the electrolyte balance and fluid content in the body. In fact, in some circumstances, this imbalance of electrolyte levels can lead to uneven production of minerals or electrolytes, it can also result in harmful long-term problems.

Electrolyte imbalance commonly occurs due to dehydration caused by loss of fluids in the form of prolonged diarrhea, malnutrition, sweating, vomiting, excess heat, chemotherapy drugs medications such as diuretics, antibiotics, heart failure, kidney disease, eating disorders, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

Mild electrolyte imbalance usually doesn’t impact much whereas greater imbalances can manifest in symptoms such as:

  • increased or irregular heartbeat
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • numbness and tingling in fingers or body parts
  • muscle weakness or cramping
  • headache
  • nausea
  • fluid retention
  • convulsions, or seizures.

How to maintain the electrolyte balance

The most effective and appropriate way to keep the electrolyte levels balanced in the body is to consume a healthy diet. A balanced and healthy diet is supposed to provide good sources of electrolytes and may assist in achieving a balance in their level. One should consume a nutritious diet that contains common electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Food sources such as fruits and vegetables, table salt, cheese, sweet potatoes, seeds and nuts, dairy products, green leafy vegetables provide electrolytes. Bicarbonate electrolytes are naturally produced in the body.

Understanding the need for electrolytes (sodium) and signs of imbalance

Out of all the common electrolytes, Sodium is the most abundant electrolyte in the body, that it needs in moderately high amounts. Sodium is an electrolyte as well as a mineral that helps keep the water balance in and around your cells in check. It is essential for normal muscle and nerve function.

It also aids in the maintenance of normal blood pressure levels. About 85% of Sodium is found in blood and lymph fluid, levels of which are regulated by a hormone called aldosterone. The amount of sodium excreted in the urine is adjusted by healthy kidneys to maintain a constant level in the body. However, while sweating, as well one tends to lose a small amount of sodium through the skin.

The body gets Sodium electrolytes through diet and liquids, usually, most of the food contains sodium in them in natural form but it can be added as an ingredient in cooking or prepping food. However, the primary source of sodium is table salt. You can find sodium in the table salt as sodium chloride and as sodium bicarbonate in baking soda.

Canned, frozen, and snack foods can contain a lot of sodium. Furthermore, sodium can be found in a number of fast-food products. Salted nuts, cottage cheese, pickled olives, salted butter, soy sauce, are a few high-sodium foods. The overall amount of sodium in the body is impaired when sodium intake and loss are out of control.

Electrical signals are needed for communication in many body processes, particularly in the brain, nervous system, and muscles. In the generation of these electrical signals, sodium movement is crucial. As a result, too much or too little sodium can cause cells to fail, and high or low sodium levels in the blood can be lethal.

The signs of sodium imbalance are seen in two types of conditions in the body

  • Hypernatremia
  • Hyponatremia

An excess level of sodium in the blood can cause the condition Hypernatremia. This condition usually occurs due to various causes such as kidney diseases, loss of water due to vomiting/diarrhea and very little water intake, etc. The symptoms include excessive thirst, vomiting, diarrhea, and infrequent urination.

On the other hand, a decrease in sodium in the blood can cause the problem of Hyponatremia that occurs due to diseases of kidney and liver, congestive heart failure, and other conditions. The symptoms of this condition may be shown as confusion, sluggishness, lethargy, restlessness, and headache.

The crux 

Electrolytes are minerals that transport an electrical charge when dissolved in water. They are pivotal to maintain the nervous system, muscles, and an enhanced bodily function. They are found in the diet and fluid one intakes and through a balanced diet and keeping the body hydrated one can accomplish a balanced level of electrolytes in the body. Electrolytes fluctuation is normal but it sometimes can cause a severe imbalance leading to harmful long-term effects. It is advisable to consult the doctor if one suspects symptoms of electrolyte imbalance.

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