Hydration Wellness

Electrolytes: Definition, Functions, Imbalance, Sources, Facts

Complete Guide On Electrolytes

The electrolytes are minerals that conduct electricity upon dissolving in water. Electrolytes play a vital role in various body functions such as conducting nerve impulses, regulating the body temperature, muscle contraction, keeping you hydrated and regulating your body’s pH levels (1, 2, 3, 4).

In this article, we will discuss electrolytes, functions, imbalance, sources, and facts & myths about electrolytes. So, let’s start!

What Are Electrolytes?

electrolytesElectrolytes are substances that carry both positive and negative charges and allow electricity to pass through when dissolved in water. Everybody requires electrolytes to stay alive because they are helpful to regulate nerve and muscle function, body hydration, balance blood acidity and pressure, and help rebuild damaged tissue, etc. These are found in the body fluids such as blood, sweat, and urine.

The human body contains the following electrolytes:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • Bicarbonate

Let’s know about the roles of each electrolyte mentioned above.

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 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 are required for working of nervous system and muscles and internal body environment balanced.

Regulate fluid levels in the blood and plasma in your body.

The human body contains fluids that 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 fibres 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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:

When the level of electrolytes blood reaches high or low, it is known as electrolyte imbalance (456). and it also leave a negative impact on your health and can lead to death in rare cases (7).

Causes (8, 910, 11):

Electrolyte imbalance can occur due to:

  • Dehydration
  • Excess heat 
  • Excess vomiting
  • Eating disorders
  • Sickness
  • Participation in athletic, sporting, and marathon events.

Symptoms (12, 13):

Imbalance can result in conditions such as:

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

How to treat Electrolyte Imbalance: 

  • Proper hydration 
  • Using electrolyte supplements such as homemade drinks like ORS, electrolyte drinks, and water.

Best Sources Of Electrolytes:

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

Vegetables

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.

Nuts and Seeds

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

Butter made up of nuts is good in electrolytes such as magnesium. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are well-known sources of magnesium and phosphorus.

Fruits

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 Products

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

Meats

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

Drinks

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.

Sources At a glance

Electrolyte needed Sources
Sodium dill pickles
tomato juices, sauces, and soups
table salt
Chloride tomato juices, sauces, and soups
lettuce
olives
table salt
Potassium potatoes with their skin
plain yogurt
banana
Magnesium halibut
pumpkin seeds
spinach
Calcium yogurt
milk
ricotta
collard greens
spinach
kale
sardines

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 your 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 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 the 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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