Electrolytes and Water

Electrolytes and Water

How Electrolytes Affect Health

Homeostasis and balance within the body have everything to do with electrolytes and what role they play in keeping the body healthy. Heart regulation, neurological function, fluid balance, oxygen delivery, acid-base balance is affected by electrolytes which carry a charge essential for life and they assist in the function of one’s body of optimum health.

What is an electrolyte? An electrolyte is a constituent that produces an electrically charged solution when dissolved in a liquid such as water. A loss of electrolytes occurs when a person has prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, a response to strenuous athletic activity, or sweats profusely due to hot weather conditions. Additionally, excessive urine output as a result of uncontrolled diabetes, and diuretic medications can cause a loss of electrolytes.

A greater need for water is usually present in infants, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, sick patients, and elderly adults. For example, infants and children can get dehydration and electrolyte imbalances because of their smaller size and weight. What compounds the condition is if they’re experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, fever and if they refuse to eat or drink anything due to these symptoms which makes it difficult to absorb nutrients.

There are seven electrolytes in the body: Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphate, and Bicarbonate. These substances are formally known as “lytes.” The purpose and function of electrolytes in the body are that they maintain the balance of fluids between the inside part of cells and outside part of cells. Electrolytes serve the purpose of maintaining balance with respect to hydration, nerve impulses, muscle function, and pH level.

Electrolytes are essential because they maintain voltages or electrical currents across cell membranes as they carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) to cells. Without a proper balance of electrolytes, the body would not be operating well and normal body processes would be impeded.

Sodium and potassium (electrolytes) must be replaced after intense exercise especially since they are lost in sweat. The most serious electrolyte disruptions occur when the levels of sodium, potassium, and/or calcium are off. People suffering from illnesses which trigger electrolyte disturbances are more prone to imbalance issues. One of the most important organs in the body, the kidneys, regulate and assist bodily functions. Despite bodily changes and shifts, the kidneys help to maintain electrolyte concentrations in the blood. Kidney failure is an extreme example of how electrolyte disturbances can be dangerous. Dehydration, malnutrition, starvation, can all be symptoms of electrolyte imbalances which affect the kidneys.

Three states of dehydration that can cause electrolyte imbalances are: mild, moderate, and severe. Symptoms, where you can gauge the stage and severity of dehydration in your body, are presented in the three lists below.

Mild Dehydration occurs when these symptoms are present: Dry lips and mouth; thirst; inside of the mouth is slightly dry; low urine output; and concentrate urine is dark yellow.

Moderate Dehydration happens when these symptoms are noticeable: thirst; very dry mouth; sunken eyes; sunken soft spot on an infant’s head; tenting (pinch and lift skin lightly – if it doesn’t bounce back readily then you’re dehydrated); low or no urine output; and not producing tears.

Severe Dehydration can require hospitalization especially if these symptoms are indicated:

Moderate dehydration including the signs above; rapid and weak pulse; cold hands and feet; rapid breathing; blue lips; and lethargic, comatose seizures.

The best way to gauge your hydration level is to monitor the color of your urine because you can lose 2 percent of your body weight before you become thirsty. Therefore, drink before you become too thirsty to maintain hydration and electrolyte levels. If your urine is darker than a pale yellow, then increase your fluid intake.

Electrolytes are so important because the minerals that help make the body function (i.e., calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, sodium ions) cannot be substituted by any other nutrient in the diet. Since electrolytes are responsible for creating the electrical component in our bodies, without them, you could not function. Electrolytes direct water and nutrients to the body where it’s needed the most. Check out the charts in this article Water + Electrolytes: How They Prevent Dehydration which illustrates the importance of minerals associated with electrolytes and how these minerals help bodily functions.

Drinking water may not be enough to replace your electrolytes. You can purchase unsweetened electrolyte powder that can be added to water instead of reaching for sports drinks that are loaded with sugar. Above all, do your research and be mindful of signs in your body to avoid mild, moderate, or severe dehydration which can create an imbalance of electrolytes and a lack of homeostasis in the body. For fast facts on electrolytes, check out the article What Are Electrolytes? What Causes Electrolyte Imbalance? on the Medical News Today website.

 

LINKS

References

Built Lean
What Are Electrolytes…And Why Are They So Important?

Medical News Today
What Are Electrolytes? What Causes Electrolyte Imbalance?

Elete
Water + Electrolytes: How They Prevent Dehydration


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