Electrolytes are nutrients found within the body which stimulate the nerves for vital functions such as, regulating heartbeat, balancing fluid levels and allowing muscles to contract for movement. Calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium and sodium are all categorized as major electrolytes. Since these nutrients play a role in major bodily functions, an imbalance has the potential to cause various serious side-effects.
What are the Roles of Electrolytes?
- Calcium- Forms & maintains bones and teeth, aids in muscle contraction, cell division and blood clotting
- Chloride- Regulates fluid balance
- Magnesium- Normalizes heart rhythms, increases strength, reduces anxiety, plays a role in muscle contraction and digestion
- Potassium- Stabilizes blood pressure levels, regulates heart contractions and aids in muscle function
- Sodium-Contributes to fluid level regulation and nerve signaling, necessary for muscle contractions
How Do you Obtain Electrolytes?
Our bodies are electrolyte fueled through food and water consumption. These levels can become imbalanced through a series of factors including:
- Chemotherapy treatments
- Digestive conditions
- Hormonal imbalances
- Kidney damage
- Poor diet/inadequate calorie consumption
- Sickness w/ vomiting or high fever
What are the Symptoms of an imbalance?
If you experience any of the symptoms below it is best to consult with your doctor. Your doctor will help you to find the root cause for the imbalance and provide you with proper guidance on how to prevent this from happening again.
- Abdominal cramping
- Changes in heartbeat
- Joint pain
- Kidney stones
- Muscle spasms
- Trouble sleeping
How Can You Reverse an Imbalance?
- Adjust Diet- Making simple changes to your diet can greatly impact electrolyte levels. Diets high in processed and restaurant food are high in sodium but low in magnesium and potassium. To correct the imbalance focus on cutting out junk food while eating more of a fresh/whole food diet and cook meals at home often. The following foods are considered to be the best for restoring electrolyte balance as they are very water-dense and hydrating sources: celery, coconut water, cucumber, kiwi, bell pepper, citrus fruit pineapple and watermelon.
- Check Your Medications- Certain medications can impact electrolyte levels. Hormonal pills, antibiotics, diuretics and cancer drugs all have a tendency to impact electrolytes
- Regulate Sodium Intake- Sodium regulates water levels in the body. When one consumes too much salt the body retains water and too little sodium can lead to dehydration due to loss of water.
- Stay Hydrated- Drinking plenty of water (without over hydrating) helps to keep sodium and potassium levels in check. Most have heard the general rule of thumb stating we all should drink 8 glasses of water a day, although this is not true for all. The amount of water sufficient for an individual varies based upon age, size, physical activity level and diet. It is best to drink enough water where you have to urinate at least every 3-4 hours. For most this about 8-10 glasses of water. Over hydrating the cells will have the opposite desired effect and cause an electrolyte imbalance.
- Refuel Post-Exercise- After exercise it is extremely crucial to rehydrate. In fact, the body requires extra water to compensate for water and electrolytes lost during exercise. About 1.5-2.5 cups extra are necessary for shorter workouts and about 3 cups for physical activity lasting longer than one hour.
- Supplements- Some individuals may experience a chronic deficiency in specific electrolytes due to genetics or lifestyle factors. Potassium and magnesium are generally the two most common electrolytes people are lacking, which is why taking these in the form of a supplement is a great alternative. When taking supplements be sure they are high quality and food-based vitamins.
Posted by Meaghan LaFranca, M.Sc, Nutritionist, Colon Therapist