Electrolyte imbalance can lead to serious consequences if not corrected. There are many things that can cause an imbalance, but some of the things that cause these imbalances are done by those trying to be healthy. The correct balance of electrolytes in your body is critical to good health and proper functioning of your body.
In this article, I’ll be covering everything you need to know about maintaining the correct electrolyte balance and how to recognise the signs of an electrolyte imbalance.
What Are Electrolytes
Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge. Sodium ( your Salt ) calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate, and magnesium are all electrolytes. You get them from the foods you eat and the fluids you drink.
They help with the various electrical impulses that are needed around our bodies. For example, your heartbeat is regulated by an electrical impulse. So is the contracting of your other muscles around your body. Nerve impulses are also electrical impulses, through which our brain cell communicates.
Most Common Electrolytes In The Body
Electrolytes work together to perform various tasks but they also have specific things that they each do. It’s very important that a balance is maintained so that each function is performed correctly for optimum health.
Calcium does a lot more than just strengthen your bones and teeth. Calcium is also responsible for healthy blood clotting, making new cells, proper muscle contractions and nerve function. It also helps to neutralize too much acid in the body. It’s important to make sure you get enough calcium.
Calcium is stored in the bones and teeth which keeps them hard and strong, but when you don’t get enough calcium, your body takes it from your bones to make sure that the other functions are being taken care of. This leaves your bones weaker and less dense.
For optimum health, you need: 1000mg every day
Healthy natural sources: Raw dairy, Salmon, Sardines, leafy green vegetables
If you get a test, your results should be: 8.8-10.4 mg/dL
Calcium is not only about eating calcium-rich foods or taking supplements, know the complete picture here how to have stronger bones and optimize your calcium levels.
Chloride is important for fluid balance in your body. This means making sure that your cells are hydrated, but preventing a build up in the fluid that causes edema (swelling in the lower limbs) or bloating. Chloride is also necessary for your stomach acid which digests your food.
For optimum health, you need: Between 1.8 g and 2.3 g per day
Healthy natural sources: Himalayan pink salt, olives, celery, tomatoes
If you get a test, your results should be: 97–107 mEq/L
Magnesium is responsible for many functions in the body, 300 functions to be exact! It aids digestion, muscle contraction, makes sure your immune system is healthy, ensures healthy nerve function, regulates blood sugar levels and regulates your heartbeat just to name a few. Magnesium and calcium work synergistically so getting a good balance is important.
Hypermagnesemia is when you have too much magnesium and hypomagnesemia is when you have too little magnesium.
For optimum health, you need: 500-800 mg per day
Healthy natural sources: Spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds and kefir
If you get a test, your results should be: 1.7-2.3 mg/dL
Phosphate is necessary for healthy cells, bones, and teeth. Your body needs phosphate for energy and to get rid of waste products too. Phosphate also works closely with calcium. Too much phosphate in your body results in hyperphosphatemia and too little in your body is called hypophosphatemia.
For optimum health, you need: 700 mg per day
Healthy natural sources: Meat, poultry, nuts, and seeds
If you get a test, your results should be: 2.7-4.5 mg/dL
Potassium is important for heart health. It regulates your blood pressure and sodium levels. It’s also responsible for proper muscle contractions including your heartbeat. Too much potassium in your body is called Hyperkalemia and too little potassium in your body is called Hypokalemia.
For optimum health, you need: 5000 mg per day
Healthy natural sources: Leafy greens, avocado, sweet potato, crimini mushrooms
If you get a test, your results should be: 5–5.3 mEq/L
Sodium’s main functions include are muscle contractions, fluid balance in your body and enabling your body to transmit nerve signals. When you have too much sodium in your body it’s known as hypernatremia and when you have too little sodium in your body it’s known as hyponatremia.
For optimum health, you need: 3000-6000mg of sodium
Healthy natural sources: Himalayan pink salt, meat, poultry and fish
If you get a test, your results should be: 136–145 mEq/L
Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance
Your body is pretty good at maintaining a balance on its own, but there are things that make it a lot harder for your body to do that like:
- Eating too much-processed food: Processed food is often high in sodium and phosphate making it harder for your body to get rid of excess amounts. You also won’t be getting enough healthy nutritious food. An imbalance of one electrolyte often leads to an imbalance in another.
- Drinking too much water: When you drink excessive amounts of water your body loses electrolytes in your urine. 1.5 to 2l is usually fine unless the weather is really hot or you are sweating excessively.
- Exercising excessively: When you exercise, you sweat. Without replacing your electrolytes through a post-workout snack or a sports drink which contains electrolytes, excessive exercise can lead to an imbalance in your electrolytes.
- Special diets: Very restrictive diets can cause deficiencies. Other diets, such as the low carb diets like the paleo or ketogenic diet cause people to urinate more. If you are on a low carb diet and don’t eat enough salt, you would be deficient in sodium because of this.
- Being sick: Vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating all cause you to lose electrolytes. If you aren’t able to keep any food or fluids down it can put you at risk of an electrolyte imbalance. This is also often the case with people suffering from bulimia.
- Medical conditions: Kidney problems, digestive issues and the effects of medications like antibiotics or having to undergo chemotherapy can cause your body not to function as well as it should. Often the body is unable to regulate electrolytes the way it’s meant to.
Signs of Electrolyte Imbalance
If you do suspect that you have an electrolyte imbalance it’s best to go to the doctor. When imbalances are left untreated they can be fatal. Luckily the symptoms are usually unpleasant and under normal circumstances, an imbalance wouldn’t become too severe.
Symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance Include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- High or low blood pressure
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain
- Bone disorders
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Numbness or tingling
You can get a test done at your doctor’s office or through a private lab. Your doctor will be able to explain your results to you and explain what you need to do to correct the balance.
Electrolyte drinks can be very helpful in replenishing lost electrolytes. You will often find that if you have been struggling with a stomach bug that you would have an electrolyte mix recommended to you by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
Athletes also often make use of sports drinks that contain electrolytes. This is especially true of professional athletes or those who like to take part in sports that take a lot of time like marathons, triathlons, and bicycle races.
Water is important for hydration and to flush toxins from your system. But under special circumstances like illness and sporting events lasting longer than an hour, water is just not enough. Hot days where you sweat more especially during outdoor sports will also increase your electrolyte needs.
There are solutions that you can buy online, in pharmacies, sports shops that sell supplements or health stores. You can even make your own electrolyte drinks.
What to Look For in an Electrolyte Drink
Avoid those that are high in sugar or contain simple sugars like white cane sugar. There are so many out there that are actually very unhealthy. A prime example is Gatorade which does more harm than good, it has more than twice the recommended amount of sugar in it.
Instead look for healthier sugar options like stevia, raw honey or xylitol, and electrolyte drinks that keep the sugar levels low. If they contain all 6 electrolytes that are best. Some also have supporting nutrients that will increase absorption.
There are low carbohydrate options that will suit those on a low carb high-fat diet and that are safe for those with dietary restrictions like vegetarians and vegans. If you aren’t able to find a healthy low sugar option, it may be best to make your own.
Make Your Own Electrolyte Drinks
Lemon is a great fruit to add, they have a low sugar content and have vitamin C too. The taste is refreshing. Another great ingredient is coconut water which contains a surprising amount of electrolytes. For a healthy sugar alternative, you can add raw honey or xylitol. Himalayan salt and Lite salt are great for adding electrolytes as well, especially potassium and sodium.
Coconut water is higher in fructose, so do not use it every day. Herbal teas and distilled water are great ingredients too. If you are using water or herbal tea, you may be lacking the magnesium which is found in coconut water. You can take a magnesium supplement separately. You can add some extra ingredients for flavor and health benefits like ginger or raw apple cider vinegar.
Electrolyte Drink Recipe
Lemon and Coconut Electrolyte Drink
3 cups coconut water
1 cup filtered water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon
1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt
2 tablespoons raw honey
If you prefer a weaker flavour, just add more water.
I cannot believe the reputation salt has. Even mainstream medical advisory limitation of salt. What they do not take into account is that a perfectly healthy person can become unhealthy consuming too little salt.
I was born in India. India has a long history of foods. We do not consume processed foods. We prepare our meals. India housewives spend 60% of their days in the kitchen, to provide healthy foods to their families. Since, we do not eat lots of processed food and eat real food, I think the doctors should clear this that limiting our salt intake we do more harm than good. Also in few minutes, I will discuss that it’s not sodium that causes high blood pressure, it is sodium to potassium ration actually which has effects on blood pressure.
Importance of Salt ( Sodium ) in the Diet
When everyone around me was enjoying salty food, I was restricting it and thought that I was always doing a great thing for my body. Salt contains sodium and chloride. It’s our best source of sodium.
Being Told to Restrict Our Intake is Wrong Because:
- Sodium is important to live: Your heartbeat, breathing, digestion, and movements are all dependent on proper muscle function. Your sense of touch is dependent on nerve function. Good hydration relies on proper fluid balance. The RDA is set to 1.5 g to 2.3 g (1/2 – just under 1 tsp) per day but you can benefit from up to 6g (4 tsp) per day.
- Healthy food isn’t the problem, processed food is: The SAD (Standard American Diet) is full of processed foods high in sodium that the body struggles to get rid of. If you are eating a healthy home cooked meal, adding salt to season your meals not only makes them taste great but makes them even healthier.
- A high salt diet is not harmful: As long as you are eating enough potassium, your sodium levels will be regulated. Studies show that a high salt intake as long as it isn’t more than 6g per day does not increase your risk of heart disease or high blood pressure. In fact, less than 3 g of salt raises your risk for heart disease and blood pressure.
My morning routine: I take lemon, ginger and half a teaspoon of salt in warm water to start my day.
If you are already overweight, obese or struggling with high blood pressure, it is advised to keep your salt intake lower.
Sodium/Potassium Ratio and timing Is Important for Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is often a result of an electrolyte imbalance. Your levels of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium also all have an effect on the way your heart works. Even the electrolytes with an effect on your fluid levels like chloride, affect your blood pressure. Many things can cause high blood pressure.
By far, sodium has been in the spotlight as an evil substance. But research has come to light about potassium. As mentioned, potassium helps to regulate sodium. Studies have shown that between 3000 mg and 6000 mg of sodium may even have heart protective functions, but it was definite that a level of around 5000 mg of potassium effectively regulates sodium and benefits your heart.
As long as you make sure that you are getting enough potassium, you are free to season your food to taste as long as your diet consists of healthy whole foods as opposed to processed foods. This study clearly states that it’s important to get at least 4700 mg of potassium because it has a direct impact on heart health.
The sodium-potassium ratio was far more important in terms of the impact on our health than either our intake of sodium or potassium alone. The American diet often consists of a higher sodium intake and a low potassium intake. It’s estimated to be around 3600 mg of sodium and only 2500 mg of potassium which is far less than the daily RDA of 4700 mg.
The results of many studies have found that this level of sodium actually appears to lower the risk of heart disease, however, the low potassium levels in conjunction with the higher sodium intake increased the risk of heart disease. The results all show that a higher potassium intake offsets the harmful effects of the sodium.
Timing is really important. When you wake up, your blood pressure is lower because your body has been in a resting state for many hours. Eating potassium-rich foods in the morning will lower the levels of sodium in your blood which keeps it from doing what it needs to in order to give your blood pressure that boost you need to get you going and ready to face the day full of energy. So limit potassium in the morning and eat lots of sodium in the morning.
Rather save the potassium-rich foods for later in the day.
Potassium: The number one deficit Mineral
A surprising number of people are deficient in potassium. It is one of the top deficiencies. The problem is that the daily requirement of potassium is so high, that it is really difficult to get all from the food. Plus we have cheat days and social gatherings, which we cannot avoid. The health gurus, have found different ways to get the daily potassium from the diet. Like Dr. Mercola eats minimum 3 Avocadoes per day.
If you are struggling with heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, potassium is especially helpful in improving your condition. These conditions can be reversed through a healthy diet and exercise.
The best ratio of sodium to potassium is 1:5. That means you should be consuming five times more potassium than sodium. This is beneficial for everyone. No one should wait until they are ill to do something about their health.
Symptoms of Potassium Deficiency:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Low bone density
- Joint pain
- Sugar cravings
- Hair loss
- Pain in the abdomen
- Trouble concentrating
- Poor memory
If you are deficient in potassium, eating foods rich in potassium will help. In the case that you have an illness that makes it harder for your body to maintain your potassium levels, you will need medical intervention. These illnesses are mainly kidney disorders.
Top 5 Potassium-Rich Foods:
- Swiss Chard– 960 mg per cup
- Baked potato with skin– 919 mg per medium potato
- Baked acorn squash– 896 mg per cup
- Avocado– 975 mg per avocado
- Sweet potato– 855 mg per large sweet potato
Himalayan salt is the best alternative to table salt as it doesn’t contain harmful additives, has potassium in it and a lower sodium content.
- Electrolytes maintain electrical impulses in our body that are responsible for muscle contractions and nerve function
- Each electrolyte is responsible for important functions like regulating your heartbeat and blood pressure, maintaining fluid balance and making sure that your nerves are functioning correctly. These functions are essential for living.
- An imbalance in one electrolyte can cause an imbalance in the other electrolytes since they often influence each other and work together
- Common causes of electrolyte imbalances is drinking too much water, excessive exercising, vomiting, diarrhea and kidney disorders.
- Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include fatigue, weakness, irregular heartbeat, high or low blood pressure, confusion, and nausea.
- If you are on a low carb diet, take care of your electrolytes. Specially Potassium which we used to get from potatoes, which are not part of your diet now. In the absence of carbs, we urinate a lot leading to loss of electrolytes in the urine.
- Salt ( Sodium Chloride ) is not as bad as it has been made out to be. Studies show that an intake of 3000 mg to 6000 mg a day is beneficial.
- The sodium to potassium ratio is especially important for a healthy heart. Be sure to consume five times more potassium than sodium.
- Your potassium intake for optimum health should be 5000 mg.
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