A growing number of research is telling us that the key to lifelong good health is a balanced diet by making simple changes in the food we eat every day, exercise, and stress management. Yet, we continue to struggle to achieve such goals to attain a happy and a healthy life. Yes, modern society makes getting healthy harder than ever as we are so busy trying to balance work, family and other responsibilities. As a result, we unconsciously neglect our health goals. What good is wealth if you cannot enjoy it anymore with family and friends? In this world where we juggle everything, we have to make sure that our body gets the mineral and nutrients it truly needs to function actively and efficiently. Our body needs enough supply of fluids and electrolytes. They are both essential for our cells, organs and body systems to work properly.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are very much needed by our body. They are electrically charged minerals and compounds that help the body do much of its work — producing energy and contracting your muscles, for example (1). Sodium, chloride, potassium and calcium are all types of electrolytes that we may get from what we eat and drink. They are vital to many key functions in the body. Electrolyte levels are measured in blood tests, and their levels must stay within a fairly small range, or serious problems may arise (2).
Chemically, electrolytes are substances that become ions in solution and acquire the capacity to conduct electricity that are present in the human body (3). The balance of the electrolytes in our bodies is essential for normal function of our cells and our organs. As electrolytes, they conduct electricity when dissolved in water and are essential for a number of bodily functions.
An imbalance of electrolytes has detrimental effects to our body like dehydration (loss of sodium and potassium) to osteoporosis (weak bones from calcium deficiency), kidney failure (too much calcium), and irregular heart rhythm (from magnesium and potassium imbalance) (3).
Indeed, a balance of different electrolytes is vital for healthy function. All humans need electrolytes to survive because many automatic processes in the body rely on a small electric current to function, and electrolytes provide this charge (4). Electrolytes interact with each other and the cells in the tissues, nerves, and muscles (5). Sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride, and phosphate are the common electrolytes that our body needs since they serve specific functions in our body.
Electrolytes and how they affect our body:
Sodium. Sodium is an important electrolyte that helps with electrical signals in the body, allowing muscles to fire and the brain to work (6). It is half of the electrical pump at the cell level that keeps sodium in the plasma and potassium inside the cell. Where there is too much or too little of sodium, it can cause cells to malfunction that may result to lethargy, confusion, weakness, swelling, seizures, and coma are some symptoms that can occur with hyper – or hyponatremia (7).
Potassium. Potassium helps alleviate and prevent muscle cramps and can be found abundantly in many food sources, and the average individual has high stores within the body (8). In sweat, potassium losses are not as high as sodium, so making it highly unlikely that losses in potassium alone can cause a decrease in performance (9). But, it is still crucial to maintain potassium levels while training as it will be critical for a healthy water and electrolyte balance (10).
Calcium. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and serves many roles both in normal bodily functions, and athletic performance. As it circulates within the bloodstream, it has an impact on metabolism of essential nutrients, and proper physiological functions. It is also essential for bone and muscle health (11). Calcium is also involved in all types of muscle (heart, skeletal, and smooth) functions and contractions, and synthesis and breakdown of muscle and liver glycogen (12).
Bicarbonate. One of the key benefits of having fluids that contain sodium bicarbonate is that it buffers lactic acid in the blood. During training lactic acid builds up which stresses the anaerobic glycolysis energy system, but when this energy system becomes disrupted, the acid accumulations inhibit muscle contractions, which leads to fatigue (13). Research has shown that sodium bicarbonate intake can help delay the onset of fatigue, and enhance endurance capacity (14).
Magnesium. Magnesium is an often forgotten electrolyte that is involved with a variety of metabolic activities in the body, including relaxation of the smooth muscles that surround the bronchial tubes in the lung, skeletal muscle contraction, and excitation of neurons in the brain. It further acts as a cofactor in many of the body’s enzyme activities (15). It enters the body through the diet, and the amount of the chemical that is absorbed depends upon the concentration of magnesium in the body while too little magnesium stimulates absorption from the intestine, while too much decreases the absorption (16).
Chloride. Chloride is the major anion (negatively charged ion) found in the fluid outside of cells and in the blood. An anion is the negatively charged part of certain substances such as table salt (sodium chloride or NaCl) when dissolved in liquid (17). Chloride plays a role in helping the body maintain a normal balance of fluids and is closely regulated by the body (18). Significant increases or decreases in chloride can have deleterious or even fatal consequences (19).
Phosphate. Phosphate is one of the body’s electrolytes that carry an electric charge when dissolved in body fluids such as blood, but the majority of phosphate in the body is uncharged (20). Phosphate is necessary for the formation of bone and teeth, and for building block for several important substances, including those used by the cell for energy, cell membranes, and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) (21). The body obtains phosphate from foods and excretes it in urine and sometimes stool. Foods that are high in phosphate include milk, egg yolks, chocolate, and soft drinks (22).
Electrolytes are essential for the efficient functioning of our bodies and without them you lose focus, feel tired, you might get muscle cramps, your organs won’t be working at their best, and you become dehydrated (23). And water alone can’t provide all of this. We need to get electrolytes in our daily diet, so a daily electrolyte supplement is a good idea.
However, if you’re just drinking water and eating a balanced diet, it’s quite possible that you are getting enough, and if you’re a type of a person who loves to sweat more, you may consider taking the supplement (24). Buy a much healthier electrolyte supplement containing a healthy and better blend of electrolytes, without the unhealthy additives, preservatives, or calories (25). You may also make your own electrolyte solution, too. All you need is citrus, a liquid medium, a pinch of salt, and maybe a little something to sweeten it up, like honey (26). Do your research, and consider a better, healthier version (27).