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Complete Guide On Electrolytes: Types, Imbalance, and Real Facts

Complete Guide On Electrolytes

Electrolytes are essential minerals that play a crucial role in controlling and regulating various functions of the body. They are essential for regulating blood pressure, maintaining proper muscle contraction, regulating the body’s pH levels, etc.

The human body needs many important electrolytes to ensure the proper functioning of all the systems.
In this article, we will cover various aspects of electrolytes, such as what they are, how they function, and the various sources of electrolytes for the human body.

What are Electrolytes:

Electrolytes are essentially charged particles. They carry both negative and positive charges. Electrolytes, when mixed with a liquid medium such as water, become capable of conducting electricity.

In the human body, an electrolyte is a term given to various essential minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, etc. These are essentially found in the body fluids such as blood, sweat, and urine.

But, why are they called electrolytes? When these minerals dissolve in water, they turn into charged particles called positive ions and negative ions.

These ions allow the electric signals to move throughout the body. They also become responsible for carrying out various system functions including the functioning of complex organs such as the brain .
Let us take an example of how electrolytes help the brain communicate with the other parts of the body.

The human body contains numerous cells and nerves which use the charge from the electrolytes to communicate with each other. The brain sends electrical signals through the nerve cells, also called neurons, to send messages to the cells.

According to an article called “The Principles of Nerve Cell Communication”, nerve cells are important for the activity of the nervous system. The information travels through these nerve cells in the form of electric charges.

Numerous neurons form a network which makes it possible for the different body systems to communicate with the brain and vice versa.

Any imbalance within this communication system can play havoc with normal body functioning.
Electrolytes are responsible for ensuring that this communication happens optimally.
Now that we get a gist of how vital these chemicals are, let us take a look at the different types of electrolytes and electrolyte benefits.

Types of Electrolytes

Types of Electrolytes:

The various types of electrolytes essential for the human body include:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Chloride
  • Phosphorus

Sodium:

  • One of the most important electrolytes in the extracellular fluid
  • Helps maintain the right balance of fluids inside and outside the cells
  • Regulates the functioning of nerves and muscles

Potassium:

  • Regulates nerve functioning and muscle contraction
  • Regulates heartbeat and blood pressure
  • Transports nutrients to cells and waste outside the cells

Calcium:

  • Present in the extracellular fluids
  • Regulates skeletal mineralization
  • Regulates muscle contraction and relaxation
  • Controls and regulates the transmission of nerve impulses
  • Promotes blood clotting

Bicarbonate:

  • Maintains pH levels
  • Works with Sodium, Potassium, and Calcium to maintain electrical neutrality at the cellular level

Magnesium:

  • Responsible for ATP metabolism
  • Regulates contraction and relaxation of muscles
  • Ensures proper neurological functioning

Chloride:

  • Abundantly present in serum
  • Primarily found in extracellular fluid
  • Maintains electrolyte balance
  • Regulates body fluids
  • Maintains body pH levels

Phosphorous:

  • Plays an essential role in metabolic pathways
  • Maintains proper blood volume
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Regulates body pH value

So, as we can see, each of these electrolytes plays a crucial role in ensuring a balanced functioning and coordination between various organs and systems in the body.

We have learned the key electrolyte benefits. But what are their implications on the system? We try to explain what these electrolytes do and how it impacts the human body in the next section.

What Do Electrolytes Do?

Electrolytes regulate fluid levels in the blood and plasma in your body.

The human body contains fluids which mainly comprise water and electrolytes. One-third of this fluid is extracellular fluid, also known as the circulating fluid. The remaining two-thirds is the intracellular fluid.

This fluid is responsible for various functions, including:

  • Oxygen transportation and carbon dioxide regulation in the blood
  • Chemical distribution within the cells and tissues
  • Electrical signal distribution within the cells and nerves
  • Hormone and nutrient distribution within the body
  • Transport of waste to the various excretory organs

When this fluid balance is reduced, the concentration of sodium in the blood increases. This can result in a condition called Hyponatremia. Symptoms include headache, nausea, confusion, nausea, delirium, etc.

When you exercise, your muscle fibers get damaged and then repair themselves. This is a constant process. During this process, the muscles produce lactic acid resulting in increased acid levels in blood and body fluids.

Electrolytes maintain these pH levels. This prevents the occurrences of conditions such as muscle cramping, nerve pain, etc.

Electrolytes maintain muscle contractions.

Every movement in the body is a result of muscle contractions. These contractions ensure a host of functions ranging from walking, running, sitting, standing, to more complex processes such as eyelid movements and respiration.

Muscle contractions also are essential for heat production, joint stability, and posture.

Electrolytes regulate heartbeat and maintain heart health.

Electrolytes are responsible for triggering and sustaining electric impulses of the heart. Sodium,  Calcium, Potassium, and Magnesium are crucial for the proper functioning of the heart’s muscle tissue.

Imbalance of electrolytes can cause conditions such as arrhythmia and cardiac arrest.

Electrolytes ensure signal transmission.

They are responsible for transmitting nerve signals from the brain, heart, muscles, nerves, and cells to the other parts of the body, nerves, cells, and tissues.

This signal transmission is vital for various functions such as cell growth, development, and differentiation. Apart from that, signal transmissions are essential to maintain homeostasis or proper balanced functioning of all the organs and systems in the body.

Electrolytes help in blood clotting.

Calcium is one of the electrolytes responsible for blood clotting during cuts and injuries. Proper clotting of blood is essential for quick recovery from injuries, cuts, and wounds and the prevention of blood loss.

Electrolytes help build new muscles and tissues.

An important aspect of injury recovery is the repair of muscles and tissues that are damaged. As you age, your body goes through the process of replacing muscles and tissues that have degenerated.

In order to have a healthy skeletal system, the human body must have the capacity to repair and rebuild muscles, cells, and tissues. Electrolytes play an important part in this process.

Electrolyte Imbalance:

An electrolyte imbalance occurs as a result of an abnormal concentration of electrolytes in the body. 

Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance:

  • Electrolyte imbalance can occur due to:
  • Dehydration
  • Excess heat 
  • Excess vomiting
  • Sickness
  • Participation in athletic, sporting, and marathon events.

Symptoms Of Electrolyte Imbalance:

Imbalance can result in conditions such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Convulsions
  • Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle cramping

How to treat Electrolyte Imbalance: 

Let us now take a look at different ways to maintain the electrolyte balance in your body.

Best Sources Of Electrolytes:

Electrolytes are found in multiple sources such as fruits, nuts, fruits, vegetables, milk, milk products, etc.

Vegetable sources of electrolytes:

Potatoes and broccoli are among the excellent electrolyte sources.

Broccoli is a well-known superfood. It is an excellent source of calcium and magnesium. Those who stay away from animal products due to dietary reasons can depend on broccoli and potatoes for their electrolyte intake.

Potatoes have the highest source of potassium among all the vegetables. Lentils, beans, kidney beans, soybeans, and avocados are also rich in magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.

Tomatoes are a good source of sodium. Spinach, kale, and collard greens are good in calcium and magnesium.

Nut and Seed sources of Electrolytes

Most nuts are an excellent source of magnesium and a very good source of potassium and calcium. Almonds, peanuts, brazil nuts, and cashews are the popular nut sources for electrolytes.

Nut butters are good in electrolytes such as magnesium. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are well-known sources of magnesium and phosphorus.

Fruit sources of Electrolytes

Bananas are high in potassium, while strawberries are good sources of this electrolyte. Watermelon is rich in potassium and magnesium. Oranges, dried apricots, and prunes are other important sources.

Dairy sources of Electrolytes

Milk contains high levels of calcium and potassium. Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are rich in magnesium, sodium, and phosphorus.

Animal sources of Electrolytes:

Turkey, chicken, veal, and fish are the animal sources rich in electrolytes.

Drink sources of Electrolytes:

Coconut is rich in sodium, potassium, and chloride and is one of the most preferred natural sources to counter dehydration. Pickle juice is a surprising source of electrolytes. The above foods and drinks are excellent sources of electrolytes.

Electrolytes Supplements:

Sometimes, you may need to replenish electrolytes quickly, for example after a workout or during races and marathons. 

Such situations require products that can help replenish these electrolytes quickly and instantaneously. Products such as electrolyte drinks help you to easily and instantly replenish the much-needed electrolytes for our body.

Sports drinks and electrolyte drinks are frequently used as electrolyte replacements by sportspersons and for post-workout recovery.

Electrolytes: Real Facts and Myths:

Now that we have learned so much about electrolytes, let us take a quick look at facts and myths about electrolytes.

Myth: Drinking water is enough during summers. Just keep drinking lots of water.
Reality: Summers can be quite sweaty and hot and result in extreme fluid loss. This can happen in the form of sweat, respiration, and excretion. Fluid loss often leads to dehydration.

Many people believe that drinking water is enough to compensate for the fluid loss. An important point to remember here is that along with water, you will also lose essential body minerals and electrolytes.

We know electrolytes are extremely important for conducting many body functions. Hence, drinking water is simply not enough. You must take help of electrolyte drinks to compensate for the loss of fluids.

Myth: Drinks such as glucose water provide hydration(electrolytes) and energy.
Reality: This is one of the biggest myths surrounding drinks such as glucose. These drinks are high on carbohydrates and designed to provide an instant energy spike through the presence of sugars.

To ensure proper hydration, you must depend on authentic electrolyte drinks.

Myth: Electrolyte drinks are only for sportspersons and athletes.
Reality: This is not true. Sportspersons do lose a lot of body fluids when playing. The same fluid loss applies to everyone. 

Anyone who loses fluids due to sweating, sickness or other factors will need electrolyte drinks to compensate for lost fluids.

Conclusion:

Electrolytes are the essential chemicals in the body responsible for controlling and regulating various functions. These include controlling and regulating muscle and nerve function, maintaining osmosis and body pH levels, regulating muscle contraction and relaxation, and maintaining body hydration.

Electrolyte imbalances often lead to various health issues. These imbalances can occur due to dehydration, vomiting, sickness, and related conditions.

A good way to maintain electrolyte levels is through plant and animal sources that provide electrolytes such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, etc.

Staying hydrated is a good way to maintain good levels of electrolytes along with maintaining good dietary habits.

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