We often hear the term electrolytes in commercials for sports drinks. Uber-fit people, out of breath and covered in sweat after an apparently grueling workout, take generous gulps of their brightly-colored sports drinks and appear to be refreshed.
If we got all of our information from commercials, we would probably assume electrolytes are only relevant to people who do high intensity exercise. And while there certainly is a relationship between electrolytes and physical activity (particularly recovery), this only scratches the surface of what electrolytes are responsible for.
This article will define what exactly electrolytes are and what they do for the body. It will also describe the causes and symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance, and how you can maintain healthy levels of electrolytes to keep your body running as smoothly as possible.
What Is An Electrolyte?
Most likely you have heard of minerals such as calcium, sodium and potassium, which are all essential to proper body functions, but did you know that these are all examples of electrolytes?
An electrolyte is a mineral or a compound that takes on an electric charge when it dissolves in the body’s stores of water. These electrical impulses allow the electrolytes to send signals from nerve, heart, and muscle cells to the rest of the body’s cells.
Consider this task as similar to that of the postal service–without electrolytes, our cells would not be able to send out or receive messages.
Electrolytes are commonly discussed in relation to intense exercise because they maintain body fluid levels, and during vigorous physical activity we lose a lot more fluids (mostly in the form of sweat) than we take in. Thus an electrolyte replacement supplement or electrolyte drink shortly after a workout can help replenish what your body needs to return to a healthy electrolyte balance.
Electrolyte levels need to stay within a certain range in the body. Having both too much or not enough of any given electrolyte can result in health issues that may require medical attention.
The Many Roles Of Electrolytes
We just briefly covered the main functions of electrolytes, but let’s take an even closer look at what each of the six main electrolytes in the body do to keep the body healthy:
Sodium helps regulate the fluid levels in our bodies and in our blood, making sure they are balanced. This also helps balance blood pressure and keep it within a healthy range.
Like many electrolytes, sodium is crucial to nerve function, helping send out nerve signals to the rest of the body. It plays a massive role in muscle contraction as well.
Too high of a sodium level is called hypernatremia, with low levels referred to as hyponatremia.
Similar to sodium, chloride maintains balanced fluid levels in the blood plasma and the body. It also regulates the pH balance of the blood, making sure it is within the normal, slightly alkaline range (7.35-7.45).
Chloride also supports optimal digestive function.
Potassium is essential to heart function and health. It regulates and maintains blood pressure, and sends nerve signals from the heart to other cells in the body. Potassium also facilitates muscle contraction and can be behind muscle spasms or cramping, including the beating of the heart.
In addition to all of this, potassium supports bone, muscle, and nerve health.
Excessive potassium levels are referred to as hyperkalemia, with too little referred to as hypokalemia.
Calcium is most well known for building strong bones and teeth–you probably consumed a lot of it when you were growing up. Calcium also helps regulate blood pressure and allows for healthy blood clotting. Like many other electrolytes it is involved in muscle contraction, particularly in sending out nerve signals from skeletal muscle cells.
Low calcium levels are known as hypocalcemia.
Magnesium helps regulate calcium in the cells, so anything that calcium is involved in also relates back to the work of magnesium. Additionally, magnesium maintains a normal heart rhythm, manages blood sugar levels, and supports the production of genetic material.
Too little magnesium is referred to as hypomagnesemia.
Similar to magnesium, phosphate has a close relationship with calcium. It helps form teeth and bones, and promotes nerve and muscle function.
Phosphate also aids in tissue growth and reparation.
Now that we have a better idea of what electrolytes do in general, as well as the specific tasks of the body’s main electrolytes, let’s explore what might happen if electrolyte levels move outside of the desired range, and why that might occur. Remember: we do not want electrolyte levels to be too low OR too high.
An electrolyte imbalance can cause a variety of different symptoms that can affect your health and even warrant attention from a healthcare provider, including:
- Muscle cramps and/or spasms
- Changes in blood pressure and/or irregular heartbeat
- Signs of dehydration–excessive thirst, dry mouth/throat
Severe electrolyte imbalances can cause symptoms that affect the nervous system, muscles, and bones, among others.
We want the amount of water that enters our body to equal the amount that leaves it, in order to maintain a balance of both fluids and electrolytes.
Consequently, the most common cause of an electrolyte imbalance is when water intake and output are not equal–more often than not it will be the output that is greater than the intake.
The following can all result in an electrolyte imbalance:
- Intense sweating, especially as a result of physical activity
- Prolonged vomiting (including bulimia)
- Certain medications, such as diuretics (which increase urine output)
- Kidney/other urinary tract issues
- Lack of proper nutrition in diet
- A pH imbalance in the body and/or blood
- Serious illness, such as kidney disease or congestive heart failure
If you are experiencing symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance but do not recognize the cause, consult with your primary care provider.
How To Avoid An Electrolyte Imbalance
As the list of symptoms might indicate, an electrolyte imbalance is not something to take lightly. Thus, it is important to do everything you can to keep your electrolyte levels balanced, and/or correct an imbalance as soon as possible.
Consider An Electrolyte Supplement
If you frequently exercise at a high intensity for a long period of time, you are at higher risk of an electrolyte imbalance (especially as a result of excessive sweating) and could benefit from an electrolyte supplement.
While many athletes use sports drinks to rehydrate after physical activity, these drinks have high sugar contents and oftentimes not enough electrolytes to completely replenish your stores. Instead, consider an electrolyte supplement like Livingood Daily Energyze.
Livingood Daily Energyze is the perfect synergy of electrolytes, minerals, and vitamin C, and helps the body replenish and/or maintain its fluid and electrolyte stores, especially after excessive fluid loss.
Vitamin C supports immune health and contains collagen, which strengthens the whole body.† Other ingredients include magnesium, an electrolyte (whose benefits are listed in detail in an earlier section) that supports heart and muscle health, and d-ribose, a compound that promotes better energy and exercise recovery.†
Real health is possible with Livingood Daily Energyze. Just add a scoop of it to a glass of water and mix it up, or use this supplement to make tasty popsicles in an ice rack. For extra fuel and benefits, mix Livingood Daily Energyze with Livingood Daily Greens, a tasty and nutritious greens powder supplement.†
Improve Your Water Intake
A balance in electrolytes relies on proper hydration. Follow these helpful tips to keep your body hydrated:
- Drink about 6-8 glasses of water a day. Avoid fluids that are high in sugars, like sodas and some fruit juices.
- Carry around a reusable water bottle so that you remember to drink water when you are out and about.
- Similarly, order water as your drink when you are eating out. You will save money, reduce your calorie intake, and feel better overall.
- Eat your water! Foods like broth-based soups, celery, and melons all have high water contents, and therefore contribute to better hydration.
- Drink before you get thirsty. A good test of poor hydration is the color of your urine–dark yellow is a sign you need to hydrate.
- Add citrus slices or fruits to your water, in order to enhance the taste and make you more excited to drink it.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is a diuretic and therefore will increase your urine output and dehydrate you quickly (even more so if you are vomiting).
Talk To Your Doctor
If you are concerned about your electrolyte levels and/or have a chronic condition that may cause an electrolyte imbalance, include your doctor in any discussions regarding treatment or supplementation. They can use a blood test to check your electrolyte levels and identify potential deficiencies.
Electrolytes support countless systems within the body, including the nervous, muscular, and cardiovascular systems. Additionally, electrolytes promote better bone and tissue health, and maintain normal pH and fluid levels in the body and blood. Thus, they are absolutely essential to real health.
In order to avoid an electrolyte imbalance, make sure to hydrate properly, especially after intense fluid output. Electrolyte supplements like Livingood Daily Energyze can help you avoid any imbalance in your body, and keep your body working at its best.†