Have you ever felt excessively tired or dehydrated after an intense period of physical activity? Or maybe you have struggled to rehydrate after an illness involving increased fluid output, such as vomiting. These could be your body’s signs that you are dealing with low electrolytes, and need to replenish your stores.
Electrolytes perform many necessary tasks in the body, so it is important to maintain healthy levels in order to stay healthy. This article will show you how to identify when your body may be exhibiting signs of low electrolytes, and how to return your electrolyte levels to the desired balance.
What Are Electrolytes?
If you have any background in the Greek language, you may be able to figure out a little bit about what electrolytes do just from the name. ‘Electro-’ refers to electricity, while ‘-lyte’ comes from the Greek word to loosen or untie. In other words, when electrolytes are ‘loosened’, they are able to conduct electricity.
Minerals such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium are all examples of electrolytes. When dissolved in the body’s large supply of water, electrolytes gain an electric charge (positive OR negative) and become capable of transmitting nerve signals from certain cells in the body to others. In this way, electrolytes are absolutely crucial to the nervous system and overall cell wellness and efficiency.
Electrolytes are also involved in maintaining a balanced level of fluids in the body as a whole and the blood plasma. That is, electrolytes make sure that the amount of fluid entering the body equals the amount of fluid leaving the body. When these two sides of the equation are not generally equal, an imbalance will occur.
Additional roles include:
- Regulating the pH balance of the blood (a normal pH balance should be slightly alkaline, or within the range of 7.35-7.45)
- Promoting tissue growth and repair
- Facilitating muscle contractions, such as the beating of the heart
- Assisting in healthy blood clotting
Each specific electrolyte also has its own respective functions–calcium, for example, helps build strong bones and teeth.
You want your electrolytes to remain within a desirable range in the body. Anything outside of that range, whether lower or higher, will result in an imbalance and potentially will cause adverse symptoms.
Symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance
Symptoms of low electrolytes are often similar to symptoms you may experience if you are dehydrated, which makes sense considering the crucial role electrolytes play in regulating the body’s fluids. These symptoms may include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle spasms and/or cramps
- Changes in blood pressure
- Generally not feeling yourself
More severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention are:
- Chest pain
- Intense muscle weakness
- Change in heartbeat
Some symptoms are specific to a deficiency in one or more minerals that double as electrolytes.
Please note: the prefix ‘hypo-’ means low, and is the opposite of the prefix ‘hyper-’, which means high. For example, hypomagnesemia signals a magnesium deficiency, while hypermagnesemia means the levels of magnesium in the body are too high.
Each condition has its own symptoms, but this section will focus only on the symptoms of electrolyte deficiencies.
- Hypomagnesemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough magnesium. Given that magnesium supports heart, muscle, and nerve health, hypomagnesemia may affect these areas. Additional symptoms include nausea/vomiting, changes in appetite, fatigue and abnormal heart rhythms.
- Hyponatremia is a sodium deficiency. It forces excess water to move into the cells, and may cause lethargy, changes in mood, headaches, and muscle spasms. More severe symptoms are seizures and loss of consciousness.
- Hypokalemia is when the body has low levels of potassium. Symptoms, such as fatigue, heart palpitations, constipation, and muscle cramps, usually only occur when a deficiency is dangerously low. This condition can be life-threatening if potassium levels sink below a certain point (2.5 mmol/L).
- Hypocalcemia is a calcium deficiency. Similar to hypokalemia, symptoms will only start to appear once the condition worsens and not normally at the beginning. Weak nails and bones, muscle spasms, numbness and decreased cognitive function all may occur as a result of serious hypocalcemia.
- Hypochloremia is a condition in which the stores of chloride in the body are depleted. It is related to sodium and potassium levels in the blood, in addition to chloride. Symptoms of hypochloremia include weakness, dehydration, diarrhea and/or vomiting.
- Hypophosphatemia occurs when the body does not have enough phosphorus. If you are experiencing muscle and/or bone weakness, lethargy, or changes in appetite and mood, you may have hypophosphatemia, though symptoms are only likely to start once your levels of phosphorus have gotten seriously low.
All in all, there are many different symptoms that can signal low electrolytes, so it is crucial to find out exactly what is causing this depletion in order to properly treat it.
Causes of an Electrolyte Imbalance
The most common cause of an electrolyte imbalance is a high loss of fluids over a short period of time. Athletes often use drinks high in electrolytes during recovery to limit or curb the effects of intense sweating. Illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea may also cause low levels of electrolytes.
The following can all cause low levels of electrolytes:
- Failing to rehydrate after intense physical activity
- Fluid loss, including sweat, vomiting, diarrhea, and urine
- Poor nutrition
- Not eating or drinking enough
- Severe dehydration
- Some drugs and medications, such as diuretics (which increase urination), laxatives (which increase defecation) and steroids
- Alcoholism and/or severe liver damage
- A pH imbalance in the blood or body
- Heart, kidney, or respiratory problems
- Cancer treatment
If you are experiencing symptoms of low electrolytes but are unsure of the cause, talk to your medical provider. They can run blood tests, physical exams, and even EKGs (electrocardiograms) to figure out what the cause may be.
Treatment of low electrolytes depends on the cause. People who lose electrolytes as a result of illness, sweating, or short-term fluid loss can rehydrate by drinking fluids high in electrolytes. More tips on how to avoid a dip in electrolyte levels are available in the following section.
For those whose electrolyte deficiencies are caused by more chronic conditions, the treatment options vary. IV fluids and medications are a quick fix to more severe dehydration, while certain medications and supplements can help keep electrolytes at the desired levels. By treating the condition that may cause an electrolyte imbalance, you lower your risk for a depletion in electrolytes.
It is important to remember that you should not make any decisions regarding your treatment plan without explicit approval from your doctor.
How to Increase Your Electrolyte Levels
The best way to avoid losing too many electrolytes is by staying hydrated. Here are some tips for better hydration:
- Avoid taking diuretics, which will facilitate greater urine/fluid output
- Drink less alcohol, which functions as a diuretic
- Eat foods with high water contents, such as celery, melons, and broth-based soups
- Carry around a water bottle when you are on the go
- Check your pee–dark yellow urine is a sign that your body is dehydrated
You can also drink fluids high in electrolytes like sports drinks, especially if you are someone that engages in intense exercise. Be aware, however, that these drinks usually contain a lot of sugar.
Additionally, electrolyte supplements like Livingood Daily Energyze are specifically designed to correct an electrolyte imbalance and promote better hydration, especially after intense sweating.†
We want you to get the most out of your workouts and feel refreshed afterwards, which is why this effective supplement includes ingredients such as d-ribose and taurine, to support exercise performance and recovery. Mix this supplement with water and freeze it in an ice rack to make delicious popsicles, or pair it with a greens supplement for extra nutrients and a full-body detoxification.
Finally, eating a healthy well-balanced diet can help make sure you get enough of each of the electrolytes your body relies on. Foods such as spinach,, strawberries, pickles, beans, avocados, potatoes, and oranges are all great sources of electrolytes. See the chart below for food sources more specific to each individual electrolyte:
|Sodium||Dill picklesTomato juices, sauces, and soupsSea salt|
|Chloride||Tomato juices, sauces, and soupsLettuceOlivesSea salt|
|Potassium||SpinachBroccoli Leafy Greens|
|Magnesium||Black Beans Pumpkin seedsSpinach|
|Calcium||Nuts and SeedsRicottaCollard greensSpinachKaleSardines|
We need electrolytes in order to function at our best. When we experience a drop in electrolytes, we can experience fatigue, nausea, headaches, and many other (sometimes severe) adverse symptoms.
In order to avoid low levels of electrolytes, we can make sure we are hydrating properly, eat a balanced and nutritious diet, and use natural supplements, like Livingood Daily Energyze!†