How Do Electrolytes Work in Our Body

Urvashi Pokharna Mar 10, 2019
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Sports drinks have become so popular in recent years because they help replenish electrolyte reserves in your body and provide energy for physical activities. But, why are electrolytes so important for our body? What do electrolytes do for your body? Read on to find out...
Electrolytes are ions or mineral salts present in your body fluids to help it function properly and keep it hydrated by maintaining a salt balance in your body. Every time you perspire, you lose electrolytes in your body through sweat. This makes you feel more thirsty and you drink more water.
Electrolytes are present in the food and water we consume. The salts derived from everything you eat and drink, is dissolved into your body and passed on to various fluids like blood, urine, cellular fluids.

How Electrolytes Serve Us

● Electrolytes are like mineral salts that are mainly present in the form of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfate, phosphate and chloride ions. They restore and maintain appropriate hydration levels in different parts of the body.
● Any deficiency in these salts can cause health issues such as, lethargy, depression, weakness, coma and heart problems.

● These salts, as ions, with their property of maintaining osmotic pressure also help in muscle contraction, produce and carry electrical signals from the brain to the cells and vice versa.
This explains the reason you get muscle cramps after indulging in heavy physical activities because sometimes when the electrical signals are unable to reach a part of your body, the muscles are unable to relax properly and this causes a spasm.
● The kidney separates electrolytes from your blood and regulates its level in the body. So, when electrolyte levels deplete, you get frequent nature calls than normal. This flushes out water from your body and equates its level with that of electrolytes present in the body.
If there is excess concentration of electrolytes in your body than required, you will feel more thirsty than usual to make up for the less quantity of water.

● Excessive loss of electrolytes can cause severe dehydration and affect the cardiac and central nervous system. This will lead to diarrhea, purging and kidney failure of hyponatremia in extreme cases.
● Electrolytes work in our body at the cellular level, and if they are present in low amounts than required, they can affect all major systems and organs. They work in our body by also maintaining the body temperature and keep it cool.

● However, excessive consumption of electrolytes can cause unnecessary water retention leading to swollen muscles.
This happens when you take additional supplements or consume too much salt to replenish electrolyte levels in your body. At this time, the sodium levels will increase and become unnaturally high which will lead to retention of excess of water. If your body temperature rises more than normal it can make you sick and affect your physical strength.
● If you try to replenish electrolytes lost by drinking a lot of water at once, you will be diluting the amount already present in your blood instead, through such high intake of water. It is wiser to keep drinking water over a period instead of drinking altogether at once.
● Any imbalance in the level of electrolytes in our body can prove fatal within hours, especially to those already suffering from gastrointestinal problems. It disrupts the functioning of the body and makes it weak.
● Adrenal hormones like aldosterone and para-thyroid help regulate electrolytes and maintain the intracellular as well as extracellular chemical balance. You can get your electrolyte levels checked through an electrolyte panel blood test.

Side Effects Related to Imbalance of Electrolytes

Sodium

Deficiency: Leads to Hyponatremia
Symptoms:
  • Brain damage, thyroid, cancer and pneumonia
  • Kidney diseases or over-consumption of water can cause low sodium levels in the body
Excess: Leads to Hypernatremia
Symptoms:
  • Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, swelling
  • Loss of water can cause dehydration and raise sodium levels in the body

Potassium

Deficiency: Leads to Hypokalemia
Symptoms:
  • Excessive urination, kidney failure, cardiac problems
  • Causes abnormal transfer of electrical impulses
Excess: Leads to Hyperkalemia
Symptoms:
  • Vomiting, sweating, diarrhea
  • Caused by intake of laxatives or diuretics. The condition is also observed in diabetic ketoacidosis

Calcium

Deficiency: Leads to Hypocalcemia
Symptoms:
  • Muscle cramps, weakness, cardiac problems
  • Caused due to eating disorders or malfunction of the parathyroid hormone
Excess: Leads to Hypercalcemia
Symptoms:
  • Depression, kidney stones, abdominal pain
  • Caused due to breast cancer, kidney failure, high levels of vitamin A or D

Magnesium

Deficiency: Leads to Hypomagnesemia
Symptoms:
  • Inability of intestines to absorb, confusion
  • Caused by over-consumption of alcohol, malnutrition, excessive loss of fluids
Excess: Leads to Hypermagnesemia
Symptoms:
  • Adrenal insufficiency, diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Closely related to hypocalcemia and hyperkalemia
Remember, you only require 250 mg of sodium per day to derive its necessary amount for your body. Athletes may require twice more than the normal person due to intense physical activity. However, these are sufficiently obtained from your daily diet.
It is recommended that you do not prolong you workouts exceeding two hours because after that, it can cause severe loss of electrolytes in your body. You will suffer from muscle cramps and exhaustion. It will become difficult to get your body to work out the next day.
If your body starts to feel exhausted again after a day of hard work, you sure will know what are the reasons at work and what is to be done before, it's too late.
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