What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolyte is nothing but essential minerals in your body that are necessary for nerve and muscle function, the body-fluid balance, and other critical processes. They are particles that can carry an electrical charge and are present in your blood, plasma, urine, and other fluids.
Electrolytes exist in the form of calcium, chlorine, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and sodium that can be obtained from fluids, supplements, and foods. For example, bananas are excellent sources of potassium.
With reference to nutrition, the term refers to essential minerals found in your blood, sweat, and urine. When these minerals dissolve in a fluid, they form electrolytes — positive or negative ions used in metabolic processes. Electrolytes found in your body include:
These electrolytes are required for various bodily processes, including proper nerve and muscle function, maintaining acid-base balance, and keeping you hydrated.
Function Of Electrolytes
1. Electrolytes are crucial for keeping your nervous system and muscles functioning and your internal environment balanced. Your brain sends electrical signals through your nerve cells to communicate with the cells throughout your body.
2. Muscle contraction requires electrolyte calcium. It allows muscle fibers to slide together and move over each other as the muscle shortens and contracts. Magnesium is also required in this process so that the muscle fibers can slide outward and muscles can relax after contraction.
3. Water in the right amounts both inside and outside each cell in the body is important. Electrolytes, particularly sodium, help maintain fluid balance through osmosis. This prevents cells from bursting from being too full or shriveling up due to dehydration.
4. Your body needs to regulate its internal pH to stay healthy. pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a solution is. For example, to stay at a pH of around 7.35 to 7.45 your blood regulates. If it deviates from this, your body can’t function properly, and you become unwell. Having the right balance of electrolytes is fundamental to maintaining your blood pH level.
Electrolyte imbalances can be caused by a deficiency or an overabundance of minerals in the body. For example, hyperkalemia and hypercalcemia are indicative of excess amounts of potassium and calcium, respectively, which can disrupt the overall balance and functioning of the nerves, cardiovascular system, and muscles.
It’s normal for electrolyte levels to fluctuate. Sometimes, though, your electrolyte levels can become imbalanced. This can result in your body creating too many or not enough minerals or electrolytes. A number of things can cause an electrolyte imbalance, including:
- fluid loss from heavy exercise or physical activity
- vomiting and diarrhea
- medications such as diuretics, antibiotics, and chemotherapy drugs
- alcoholism and cirrhosis
- heart failure
- kidney disease
- eating disorders
- severe burns
- some forms of cancer
Symptoms Of Electrolyte Imbalance
These vary depending on which electrolytes are most affected. Common symptoms include:
- fluid retention
- irregular heartbeat
- bone disorders
- changes in blood pressure
Causes Of Electrolyte Imbalance
There are several reasons for an electrolyte imbalance, including:
- kidney disease
- not replenishing electrolytes or staying hydrated after exercise
- prolonged periods of vomiting or diarrhea
- poor diet
- severe dehydration
- an imbalance of the acid-base, or the proportion of acids and alkalis in the body
- congestive heart failure
- cancer treatment
- some drugs, such as diuretics
- age, as the kidneys of older adults, become less efficient over time
Preventing Electrolyte Imbalance
- If your urine is clear to straw-colored before a race or workout, you’re well hydrated.
- You should drink a sports drink containing electrolytes.
- Drinking water with a sports drink decreases the beverage’s benefits.
- Drink when you’re thirsty. Don’t feel you must constantly replenish fluids.
- Although the needs of each individual differ, a general rule of thumb is to limit fluids to 4–6 ounces.
- Seek immediate medical advice if you lose more than 2 percent of your body weight or if you gain weight.