Electrolytes are minerals that control and regulate many important physiological functions in the body. An imbalance in electrolytes can cause anything from a muscle spasm and weakness to nervous system or bone disorders.
There are many minerals in the body that control and regulate important physiological functions. These minerals, known as electrolytes, contain free ions that behave as electrically conductive medium and carry electric charge in the blood and other bodily fluids.
Why are electrolytes important?
Electrolytes play an essential role in helping cells (like nerve, heart, muscle) to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) across themselves and to other cells. Electrolytes also affect the amount of water in the body, the acidity of the blood (pH) and muscle function, among other crucial processes.
Examples of electrolytes in the body are calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, hydrogen phosphate, hydrogen carbonate and bicarbonate.
Causes and effects of electrolyte imbalance
The electrolyte levels in the body may change when water levels in the body are altered, thus causing the level of an electrolyte in the blood to become too high or too low. This is known as electrolyte imbalance.
The kidneys and various hormones are responsible for keeping electrolyte levels constant.
Causes of electrolyte imbalance are:
- Kidney disease
- Vomiting for prolonged periods
- Severe dehydration
- Acid/base (pH) imbalance
- Congestive heart failure
- Cancer treatment
- Severe and persistent vomiting and nausea during pregnancy.
Some common imbalances are hypernatremia and hyponatremia — too much or too little sodium, and hyper kalemia and hypokalemia, which is excessive or insufficient levels of potassium.
The most common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance are:
- Altered potassium, magnesium, sodium, or calcium levels may cause muscle spasm, weakness, twitching or convulsions
- Low electrolyte levels may lead to irregular heartbeat, confusion, blood pressure changes, nervous system or bone disorders
- High electrolyte levels could lead to weakness or twitching of the muscles, numbness, fatigue, irregular heartbeat and blood pressure changes
Get your share of electrolytes
Water: Nothing works quite as well in maintaining the body’s electrolyte levels as pure water. In case you’re unwell or have worked out for over 30 minutes, add a pinch of salt to a glass of water and sip slowly for a quick dose of sodium. Coconut water is another refreshing way to replace lost potassium electrolytes
Bananas: This fruit is rich in potassium and is the best way to replace lost electrolytes
Sports drinks: Sports drinks like Gatorade are a good source for a quick replenishment of lost electrolytes. Buy one off the shelf or make one by adding 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 tbsp sugar and mix with 1 litre of water.
Plenty of fruits and vegetables: Get a strong dose of magnesium from broccoli, tofu and spinach. Apple, corn, beets, carrots, lime, oranges, sweet potatoes and green beans are also rich in electrolytes
Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanuts are a rich source of electrolytes
Electrolytes: A word of caution
In case of extreme symptoms of electrolyte imbalance, visit a doctor immediately.
Photograph via sxc.hu
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