ElectrolytesWhat Are Electrolytes? If you are an athlete of any kind, you may be familiar with electrolytes and electrolyte imbalances. Even if you’re not an athlete, it’s highly likely that you’ve experienced an electrolyte imbalance a number of times in your life. Some of the common symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance are muscle spasms, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. It is important to know the role of electrolytes in our body and to ensure that we are getting enough electrolytes according to our activity level.

Role of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are type of minerals in the body that carry electrical charges through the blood. They help balance the body’s fluid levels and are usually associated with proper muscle contraction, healthy cardiovascular function, nerve function, and a lot more.

However, when the levels of electrolytes are low, imbalances can occur, which result in a variety of changes in the body, such as dizziness, headaches, changes in the heart’s rhythm, and muscle cramps, among others. To combat these symptoms, replacing lost electrolytes and consuming a healthy diet after a vigorous physical activity are essential.

The kidneys are the organs that help maintain the concentration of electrolytes. They filter water and electrolytes from the blood, return some to the bloodstream, and then eliminate any excess through urination. The kidneys are the ones that help maintain the balance between the regular consumption and elimination of water and electrolytes.

When this balance is disturbed, health problems can occur. An electrolyte imbalance can be due to any of the following:

  • Dehydration
  • Overhydration
  • Kidney, liver, and heart problems
  • Certain medications
  • Inappropriate (IV) fluid therapy or feedings

What are the different kinds of electrolytes?

The most important electrolytes in the body are potassium, sodium, and chloride. Other electrolytes include calcium, phosphate, and magnesium.

Around two-thirds of fluids in the body are contained inside the cells, where potassium exists in large amounts. On the other hand, chloride and sodium are found outside the cells. These electrolytes have an electric charge and form ions in water.

These micronutrients are often obtained through drinking sports drinks and consuming whole foods.

Major Electrolytes in the Body

– Sodium

Sodium has a significant role in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular function, proper nerve and muscle function, and energy metabolism.

It can be uncommon for people these days to develop low levels of sodium considering the availability of a wide array of sodium-laden processed foods all over the world. Although having excessive levels of sodium in the diet is often associated with health risks, such as high blood pressure and stroke, a normal amount of sodium in the body is essential for good health.

Sodium helps in regulating blood pressure, blood volume, water balance, osmotic balance between cells, and pH.

However, there are also precautions to keep in mind when you are doing high-intensity workouts or prolonged exercises as these activities may put you at risk of developing low levels of sodium. This condition is also referred to as exercise-associated hyponatremia, which usually happens when you drink plenty of fluids (overhydration) without properly replacing lost electrolytes. The symptoms of this condition include headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and in certain cases, seizures.

Make sure to properly maintain your sodium levels by not consuming more than 600 mg of sodium every meal. When you are planning for a long workout or other prolonged physical activities, make sure to have a good electrolyte replacement to avoid developing an electrolyte imbalance.

– Potassium

Another important electrolyte that enhances proper glucose metabolism, muscle contraction, and efficient nerve transmission is potassium.

To help maintain a proper balance in the body, potassium works hand in hand with sodium. Potassium maintains the intracellular balance of fluids while sodium maintains extracellular balance.

Potassium also helps in regulating blood pressure as well as lowering your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. When potassium levels are low, certain health problems can occur. They include increased salt sensitivity, hypertension (high blood pressure), formation of kidney stones, and high bone turnover.

A severe deficiency in potassium may also result in muscle weakness, glucose intolerance, and heart arrhythmias. To keep your potassium levels within normal range, make sure to include potassium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables and fresh fruits in your daily diet.

– Chloride

Chloride is made up of 60 percent of table salt. Similar to sodium, it is uncommon for most people who live in Western countries to be deficient in chloride.

Chloride has a number of important functions, which include pH blood regulation, maintaining fluid and proper electrolyte balance, and blood pressure regulation.

You can naturally maintain or replenish your electrolyte levels by adding the following foods into your regular diet:

  • All organic vegetables and fruits (squash, tomatoes, oranges, apples, beets, and green beans, among others)
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, beet greens, kale, and chard, among others)
  • Beans (red beans, lima beans, mung beans, or pinto beans)
  • Organic and unprocessed nuts and seeds (walnuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds, among others)
  • Bananas

References

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