Electrolytes – What are they and why are they essential?



What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are the charged substances that result from when a salt is dissolved in solution. These positively charged ions can conduct electricity, and are therefore referred to as “electrolytes “. For example, common table salt is sodium chloride. When dissolved in water, it separates into a positively charged sodium ion and a negatively charged chloride ion. For us humans, important electrolytes for physiological functions include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride.

These electrolytes are involved in countless activities essential for life, including energy production, nerve transmission, muscle contractions, pH balance, fluid balance, and more. The human body, the powerful machine that it is, has its own reserves of electrolytes in place in order to maintain balance.

The problems arise when we put ourselves in situations that may threaten this balance. Under average conditions, healthy individuals will meet their electrolyte requirements over the course of a normal day by eating the right foods and staying well hydrated.

When conditions promote excessive sweating and increased metabolic activity, and there is marginal electrolyte intake, there is a risk for deficiency. Today we are faced with many challenges. Our soil is very depleted of minerals especially magnesium. Some people consume too much table salt which can move them into an electrolyte imbalance. If you are consuming too much coffee or alcohol and not replenishing with more water, you can experience symptoms of dehydration including headaches, dizziness, and joint pain.

Sodium and chloride

They are the major extracellular electrolytes in the human body, sodium providing the positive charge and chloride the negative charge. In addition to providing balance to one another, these ions are essential for maintaining blood volume and pH. Sodium and chloride are the main electrolytes lost in sweat, especially during prolonged exertion in warm and hot environments. Eating solid food is an effective way of replacing these minerals but may not always be possible. Adding sodium and chloride to the water while training will help to replace the loss of the electrolytes and help to maintain adequate blood volume and hydration.

Potassium

For the body to function normally, we need a fine balance between sodium and potassium. Although potassium is not readily lost in sweat, prolonged sweating in hot environments does lead to potassium loss, which can adversely effect blood flow, muscle function and energy storage.

Magnesium

Magnesium is responsible for the transport of calcium and potassium, DNA and protein synthesis, energy metabolism, and blood sugar maintenance. It is also extremely important for normal neurological and muscular function, including key movement in cardiac and smooth muscle contractions. The American diet is very deficient in magnesium. When food is refined, all magnesium is lost. Added to this, our soil today does not include enough magnesium.

Sport drinks are to be avoided at all costs. They are loaded with sugar and sodium. Do not be fooled by glitzy marketing claiming increased energy and improved athletic performance. This is false information. Leading brands of sport drinks on the market typically contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of sodas and more sodium. They also contain high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and food coloring. These are all toxic to our body. If you are exercising to lose weight, consuming sport drinks is counter productive as they are usually loaded with calories. The effect on the body is horrific as you may experience a quick explosion of energy followed by a plummeting disaster, as your pancreas and other glands do all they can to balance out the toxic stimulation to your blood sugar.

Coconut water is a great drink to keep your electrolytes in check. It contains magnesium, manganese, potassium, calcium, and sodium. Research says that coconut water may help to naturally balance blood sugar levels, prevent kidney stones, reduce blood cholesterol and reduce blood pressure levels. Of course adding more fresh vegetables and fruits to your diet, and staying hydrated is the way to go. When you eat a diet that is more alkaline (raw and not processed), you will be able to maintain electrolyte balance for your body to function properly and not have to worry. Stay away from processed foods that do not offer your cells any benefit and make sure to have water on hand always. When you feel that you have had too much caffeine or alcohol, be aware that you must replenish those lost electrolytes by drinking more water!

To make life easier, you may also try purchasing some good quality trace minerals and adding some drops to your water when you know that you need them. Both these and coconut water are always available at your local health food store.

Frances Michaelson

Based in the West Island of Montreal, Frances Michaelson is author of several publications including her published book , Let’s Practice Health: Learn Why Your Gut Is the CEO of Your Health.With over three decades of experience , and a broad knowledge base, Frances is widely recognized as a leader in the health and fitness field. She is the former owner of Muscleup Inc. , an exercise product distribution company , which she founded and operated for over 20 years. Frances is a licensed naturopath in Quebec and has been a personal trainer for the past 17 years. She is also an avid health and fitness blogger and a frequent conference presenter .

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