Why Are Electrolytes so Important?

Pink Himalayan salt on wooden scoop

Have you ever caught yourself wondering how do electrolytes help the body? Well, we know that they are essential for hydration, especially when you're an athlete. 

But what’s with them that makes them so important? When it comes to optimal body functioning, electrolytes are key. And because electrolytes help the body to function well, you need to have enough of them!

This article will allow you to better understand what these electrolytes are and how each of them works to support your health and wellness.

Find out how electrolytes regulate blood volume, maintain proper acidity levels, and sustain nerve and muscle function among other key roles, to keep your health thriving.

You will also get to know how much electrolytes you need in your body to prevent an imbalance and avoid health complications. As a bonus, we’ve likewise included some handy tips that will help you attain just the right balance of electrolytes in your body!

What are Electrolytes? 

Electrolytes are substances that carry an electrical charge that stimulates muscles and nerves. Our bodies have them, and in order for our organs and cells to function properly, we need to have a balance of electrolytes.

Having too little or too much of them may result in health problems, so it is important to keep our electrolytes well-equalized.

Why Do You Need Electrolytes?

Blonde woman exercising by the beach

Your body loses electrolytes such as potassium and sodium when you sweat during exercise. This also happens when you experience diarrhea and vomiting. 

In order to keep your electrolytes balanced, you need to replace what you’ve lost. It is important to note, though, that too much can lead to complications. 

The concentration of each electrolyte is regulated by your kidney and certain hormones.

The kidneys help to keep these concentrations at a healthy level by filtering electrolytes from the blood. Several hormones then work to balance the electrolyte levels. 

When a specific electrolyte becomes higher than normal, an imbalance occurs, which may lead to health complications. The same risk happens when there are low levels of electrolytes.

Potassium and sodium are two of the most common electrolytes that are often imbalanced.

The Major Electrolytes and How They Work

There are seven major electrolytes in your body, and each of them has important roles to play. Take a look at these major electrolytes and find out what they do, and why are they so important:

1.    Sodium

Sodium is one of the major electrolytes needed by the body to function optimally.

Its main functions include controlling blood volume and blood pressure, as well as helping the nerves and muscles to function properly. Sodium also helps in balancing other electrolytes.

2.    Chloride

Chloride regulates your bodily fluids by closely working with both potassium and sodium.

This important mineral also maintains fluid levels and assists in the production of hydrochloric acid, an essential digestive fluid that helps in digestion.

3.    Potassium

Potassium performs several key functions in the body. It plays a major role in muscle contraction, fluid balance, cardiac conduction, and nerve transmission.

Studies also suggest that potassium helps to lower blood pressure, and works together with calcium and sodium to regulate the water balance of the body and keep heart rhythm at a normal rate.

4.    Magnesium

Magnesium is also responsible for a number of important tasks. This mineral assists in maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, and in supporting a robust immune system.

Magnesium also stabilizes heartbeat and helps to strengthen the bones. It is also crucial for the regulation of blood sugar levels, production of DNA and RNA, protein, and energy.

5.    Calcium

Calcium not only builds and maintains healthy bones and teeth but also helps in muscle contraction and in the release of neurotransmitters.

This essential mineral also plays a major role in clotting blood, maintaining a healthy heartbeat, releasing hormones, and transmitting nerve signals.

6.    Phosphate

Phosphorus is important for the formation of teeth and bones. It also aids in the use of fats and carbohydrates by the body.

Phosphorus also helps in the production of protein for the development, maintenance, and repair of tissues and cells.

Aside from these key functions, phosphorus also works with B vitamins to support kidney function, normal heartbeat, and muscle contractions.

7.    Bicarbonate

Bicarbonate is an important component of your pH buffering system.

A byproduct of your body’s metabolism, bicarbonate aids in digestion by raising the stomach’s internal pH, and also regulates pH in the small intestine.

How Much Electrolytes Do You Need?

Peeled banana fruit

Now it’s clear why we all need electrolytes in our bodies. But as with all things, too much of a good thing can also be bad.

Having significantly high amounts of electrolytes may also lead to health problems. For example, too much sodium can raise blood pressure and aggravate hypertension among people who are already suffering from it.

Most American diets get the majority of their sodium supply (about eighty percent) from salt in processed foods like packed chips, frozen foods, and canned soups.

This means, if you want to reduce your sodium consumption to prevent electrolyte imbalance, you need to eat fewer processed foods.

You no longer need to count how much sodium, chloride or calcium your food contains to get the appropriate amounts of these major electrolytes.

Having a well-balanced, nutritious diet is already enough to get you just the right amount of everything.

Eating a variety of whole foods such as fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, healthy oils, fish and dairy will more likely provide you with the right amounts of electrolytes – unless, of course, you have diet restrictions.

It also helps to avoid processed foods and refined grains to prevent electrolyte imbalance.

How to Keep Your Electrolytes Balanced

Electrolyte imbalance can cause adverse effects. For example, calcium, sodium or potassium deficiency may result in muscle cramps or muscle weakness.

Excessive sodium, on the other hand, may raise blood pressure, and consequently, increase your risk of heart disease.

But there’s no need to worry as you can do some simple tricks to achieve the right balance of electrolytes!

Your electrolyte levels greatly depend on the foods and drinks you consume, so having proper nutrition is key in attaining your goals. Below are some tips on how to equalize the electrolytes in your body:

Add more whole foods to your diet

Whole foods contain all the key nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy.

This means you need to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet that includes fresh produce (fruits and vegetables), and healthy fats (avocado, salmon, nuts).

You can also eat more lean protein (white meat poultry, seafood, and eggs), and complex carbohydrates (quinoa, oats, brown rice).

These foods have essential vitamins, minerals, and other key compounds that promote health benefits.

By adding these foods to your diet, you won’t only get to balance your electrolytes, but you will also enjoy several other health perks.

Hydrate well

You will reap tons of amazing health benefits when you hydrate well. Drinking six to eight glasses of water per day will keep your body hydrated and functioning optimally.

So, make sure that you drink lots of water. It may be essential to drink more if you are performing high-intensity training and other vigorous physical activities.

Avoid too much salt intake

Majority of processed foods are rich in salt. Processed meats such as sausages, and bacon; sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas; quick meals such as frozen and microwavable foods; and commercially baked goods such as doughnuts are rich in sodium.

It’s highly recommended to cook your own meals, so you can prepare healthier dishes, and have the freedom to use better alternatives such as Himalayan salt or sea salt in place of table salt when cooking.

Replenish your lost electrolytes after exercise

There’s a good reason why you’re being constantly reminded to drink electrolyte-rich beverages after each sweat session.

But aside from drinking sports drinks that contain high amounts of electrolytes, you can also eat foods that are rich in sodium and potassium.

These include papaya, pickles, and sweet potatoes. You can also take electrolyte supplements that come in tablet, capsule, and powder forms.

Enjoy a warm Epsom salt bath

Your skin absorbs magnesium better than your digestive system.

If you are starting to experience symptoms of electrolyte imbalance such as muscle weakness, numbness, and exhaustion. you can take a warm Epsom salt bath as this inorganic salt contains high amounts of magnesium.

Although it is best to seek proper assessment and advice from health experts regarding your symptoms.

Takeaway

Electrolytes function differently. But while they have different roles to play, all of their functions are vital for your body’s optimal performance.

It’s important to remember that the key is to have the right balance of these electrolytes. Knowing how exactly they work is one thing, keeping them balanced is another.

Fortunately, you can promote electrolyte balance by making necessary changes in your diet. With these simple and easy nutritional hacks, you are sure to enjoy thriving health!

Just keep in mind that proper nutrition is best coupled with regular exercise and healthy sleep!

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