Like the oil in your car, electrolytes may not cause your body to run but they are needed to keep every organ in your body running smoothly. Electrolytes are essential for the proper functioning of the digestive, cardiac, nervous, and muscular systems. When you lack electrolytes, you will feel weak, and, if there is a severe enough drop, some body functions may shut down.
When you are experiencing cramps, for example, it can be a sign that you have a low level of electrolytes in your system. Cramps often happen when you work out or perform other strenuous physical activity. This is why athletes consume an electrolyte drink when they are in a game or competition. Drinking beverages high in electrolytes ensures that your electrolytes are at good levels to support you in whatever you are doing.
Electrolytes are chemicals that form ions in the body to ensure that specific organ functions run at optimal levels. Ions are electrically charged particles in the body that aid in transmitting nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Here are some of the most important electrolytes in the body:
- This is an essential positive ion because it regulates the total amount of water in the body.
- It also plays a role in many critical body functions, especially in the brain where it requires electrical signals to function.
- Another positive ion, one of the functions of potassium in the body is regulating the heartbeat and the optimum function of the muscles.
- A significant increase or decrease in potassium levels can have detrimental effects on the nervous and cardiovascular system.
- This is a major negative ion found in the fluid in the blood and outside the cells.
- Chloride is essential in helping maintain a normal balance of fluids in the body.
- Bicarbonates, another negative ion, act as a buffer to help maintain acidity in the blood and other fluids in the body.
- Acidity in the body is affected by the foods and medicines people ingest.
- Bicarbonates keep the acidity in check to keep the kidneys and lungs healthy.
Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance
Approximately 40% of your body weight comes from the fluids inside your cells, and about 20% is the fluids from outside the cells. Electrolytes help your body maintain these values, so that fluid balance is achieved. Sometimes it is normal for electrolyte levels to fluctuate. However, this might result in electrolyte imbalance. Electrolyte imbalance is usually caused by the following:
- Fluid loss from extreme physical activity;
- Heart failure;
- Kidney disease;
- Taking medications like antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs;
- Eating disorders; and/or
- Some forms of cancer.
To check if you have an electrolyte imbalance, a simple blood test is done to measure the electrolyte levels in your system. The blood test will also look at your kidney function.
There are also physical tests a medical professional can perform, such as a pinch test. This test is done to determine if you have hypernatremia, which causes the skin’s loss of elasticity due to dehydration. Aside from that, a medical professional may also test your reflexes as depleted levels of certain electrolytes affect your nerve functions.
Why Electrolytes are Important
1. It Maintains the pH of Your Fluids
Maintaining electrolytes like bicarbonate in your body is essential because this keeps the acid base balance of the fluids. Acids are usually the byproducts of metabolism, and electrolytes help buffer the acids that build up in your system. Another example is the release of energy when your muscle contracts and relaxes. Your muscles produce lactic acid when they are subjected to strain. Bicarbonate needs to bind with the hydrogen molecule released by this process to form carbon dioxide and water.
2. It Acts as a Cofactor in Many Body Enzyme Activities
Magnesium is involved in many metabolic activities, including relaxation of the smooth muscles surrounding the tubes in the lungs, muscle and skeletal contraction, and activation of the neurons in the brain. Another important function of magnesium is acting as a cofactor in several body enzyme activities.
When you do not eat enough electrolyte-rich foods, you might experience hypomagnesemia, which causes heart rhythm abnormalities and muscle weakness. This disease is also associated with alcoholism, eating disorders, and taking medications like diuretics.
3. Promotes Proper Nerve and Brain Function
Potassium is the most concentrated electrolyte found inside the cells. The difference in the concentration from within the cells compared to the plasma is critical to generate electrical impulses in the body. These electrical impulses allow the muscles and brain to function properly.
Hyperkalaemia is a condition where there is too much potassium in the body. This is a life-threatening disease because it causes abnormal electrical conduction in the heart, which puts a person at risk of having rhythm issues. Besides that, high potassium levels in the body are associated with kidney failure when excess potassium fails to be excreted through the urine.
4. Regulates Water Levels in the Body
Sodium is found outside of the cell and plays a significant part in water regulation in the body. Because of its electric charge, water goes wherever sodium goes. If there’s too much sodium in the body, it may be due to eating too many salty foods, and the kidney cannot process all the excess efficiently.
odium imbalance may cause the cells to malfunction. Too much or too little causes lethargy, weakness, and even seizures. This is because there is a rapid sodium correction in the body, and it causes an abnormal flow of water in and out of the cells.
Proper hydration after exercise is essential to replenish the calories and electrolytes secreted in your body through sweat. Aside from that, eating the right amount of foods provide consistent and adequate electrolyte support in the body. One should never wait for muscle cramps or other conditions to happen before taking electrolytes.
To ensure that you have enough electrolytes in your system, you need to stay hydrated and eat food like spinach, beans, potatoes, turkey, and bananas. Helping your body maintain this balance ensures that your heart, muscles, and nervous system work effectively.