Electrolytes are most commonly associated with brightly-colored sugary sports drinks, but there’s actually a lot more to these powerful substances than meets the eye.
What Exactly Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are fluids that conduct electricity, for example when salts are dissolved in fluids and break up into the ions they’re composed of. When nutritionists talk about electrolytes, they’re usually talking about the minerals that are dissolved into your blood, plasma, and bodily fluid between your cells.
Electrolytes are important because the nerves, cells, heart, and other muscles need them to transmit electrical energy throughout the bodily systems. This process is typically regulated well by the hormones and kidneys, but the human body loses electrolytes through sweat, especially during extended periods of exercise.
Types of Electrolytes in the Body
There are seven common electrolytes in the body, and each one has its own specific form and function.
- Sodium – regulates the amount of water contained in the body
- Calcium – transmit blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve impulses
- Potassium – regulates heartbeat and muscle functioning
- Chloride – regulates pressure and balance between the blood and cells
- Magnesium – synthesizes DNA and RNA and regulates 300+ biochemical reactions
- Biocarbonate – regulates pH balance and maintains homeostasis
- Phosphate – assists energy production in in cells to regrow tissue and cell membranes
As you can see, electrolytes carry out some really essential functions in the body, so what happens when these electrolytes become imbalanced?
There are actually many diagnosed electrolyte disorders, and according to Health Line, these are the most common conditions caused by electrolyte imbalances:
- Calcium: hypercalcemia and hypocalcemia
- Chloride: hyperchloremia and hypochloremia
- Magnesium: hypermagnesemia and hypomagnesemia
- Phosphate: hyperphosphatemia and hypophosphatemia
- Potassium: hyperkalemia and hypokalemia
- Sodium: hypernatremia and hyponatremia
In laymen’s terms, these are the conditions you may experience while your body is severely low on electrolytes:
- Kidney failure
- Thyroid disorders
- Chronic diarrhea
- Excessive sweating
- Brittle bones
- Severe burns
- Chronic alcoholism
- Heart attack
- Eating disorders
People who already have certain conditions, such as kidney disease, alcoholism, and congestive heart failure, are more prone to developing electrolyte disorders. Electrolytes that are lost through sweating must be replenished in the body. Fortunately, there are precautions that you can take right now to keep your electrolytes balanced – preventative measures don’t require any medications, supplements or procedures.
Healthy Foods with Electrolytes
You don’t need to stock your fridge with Gatorade and PowerAde to supply your body with the electrolytes it needs to keep functioning well. These are some of the healthy natural foods that are packed with electrolytes and delicious too!
- Chia seeds
- Coconut water
- “100% juice” orange juice
- Almonds and walnuts
Physicians recommend that if you notice severe electrolyte imbalance symptoms in yourself or a loved one, such as abnormally low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, sunken eyes, confusion or loss of consciousness, or poor skin elasticity, you should seek immediate medical attention. In serious cases, intravenous fluids must be injected to re-hydrate the body, oral medications taken to flush out excess minerals, and hemodialysis to remove waste from the blood.
There are so many great foods that you probably already eat that contain electrolytes, and a balanced diet is the key to always keeping them in check. Electrolytes aren’t just for athletes…they’re for everyone!