Electrolytes are essential to health and contrary to what some may think, electrolytes are essential to everyone, not just athletes.
Body fluids are primarily water and electrolytes. Electrolytes are ions comprised of 4 minerals that include Sodium, (Na) Potassium, (K), Magnesium (Mg), and Calcium (Ca). An ion is the disassociated part of a molecule like salt, (sodium chloride). It comes apart in water and floats in the blood stream as a free atom (ion) of sodium (Na), along with it’s partner, an (ion) of chloride (Cl). Na has a + electrical charge when dissolved in water. Its partner, which can include Chlorides, Phosphates, Sulphates, or Carbonates, etc., have the – charge. The opposite charges originally attracted them and kept them together until they dissolved in water, whereupon they separated.
All of our cells use that (+ -) charge differential as a driving force when they allow some ions on the inside of the cell and others on the outside. The membrane of every cell is composed of fat and acts as an insulator. By encouraging more of the sodium ions to accumulate in the blood stream, outside the cell (with potassium on the inside), they build up a charge on either side of the cell wall. That charge separation then becomes the driving force for all cells to be able to move the life giving materials in and out of the cell. It’s important to understand this because all the electrolytes are vital for cellular function. If you imagine your body as a battery, the electrolytes are the sparkplugs. Simply put, without them we could not exist… even with the absence of just one of the basic 4 electrolyte minerals, we would be history.
Electrolyte balance affects hundreds of functions in the body including:
- temperature control
- fluid level
- cardiac arrhythmia
- respiratory rate
- fluid transport across cells
- renal function (bladder control)
- neurological function
- signal transduction
- sense of touch
- energy production
- glucose metabolism and much more
Electrolyte imbalance is one of the main things that can contribute to an imbalance of the hypothalamus- a part of the brain that regulates hundreds of functions in the body-thus making it essential to have the right electrolytes.
Dehydration is a major concern especially in children and the elderly, but it if you are losing fluids, just drinking gallons of water to replenish is not the answer. Pure water without electrolytes can actually make things worse because you would be further diluting the minerals in the body. Every time you sweat during a workout or even just on a hot day, your body is losing sodium, and by drinking just water you are further diluting the sodium content in your body. Your body is able to compensate for the imbalance for a little while but after a certain time it gives in and problems can arise.
Heart abnormalities such as arrhythmia are another major thing that is linked with electrolyte imbalance. Sodium is meant to be outside the cell (extracellular) and potassium inside the cell (intracellular). When their balance shifts, the potassium becomes extracellular. The heart runs through an electrical mechanism system and thus needs these electrolytes or spark plugs to get it going. It needs the potassium to be intracellular to run correctly and now when you get this reversal, instead of trying to pump blood out of the heart, you are pumping blood into the heart. The brain compensates and says, wait, that’s not right and fixes, but by doing so notice a side effect in a way of a palpitation. If you don’t take care of it, it goes on and on and eventually you can notice becoming out of breath and exhausted or feel like your heart is beating really fast and hard known as tachycardia. I often see this pattern in people who are going through a lot of stress. Simple electrolyte rebalancing can correct this if the issue is not a structural heart defect. So if you have palpitations or rapid and irregular heart beats and cardiologists attribute it to anxiety and not a heart defect electrolytes would be very helpful.
Cramps can also arise from an electrolyte imbalance and can be very painful. A leg cramp is a spasm that comes from a muscle in the leg. It usually occurs in one of the calf muscles below and behind the knee. Sometimes, the small muscles of the feet can be affected, as wells as the hands. Typically, a cramp lasts a few minutes. In some cases, it lasts only seconds, but it can last for up to ten minutes. The muscle may remain tender after a severe leg cramp for as long as 24 hours. Leg cramps usually occur when you are resting – most commonly at night when in bed (night cramps). They may awaken you from your sleep and can become a distressing condition if your sleep is regularly disturbed.
In essence, the closing and relaxing of a muscle is dependent on calcium, sodium, magnesium and potassium. Sodium constricts and potassium relaxes, with Ca and Mg initiating each phase of the action. If an individual is low in potassium, it appears that that singular event of low potassium can be sufficient to permit a cramp to occur. Without enough potassium available to complete the relaxing cycle, a muscle can be left in a locked position. The potential cure for a cramp would logically be to have available sufficient stores of potassium. However, magnesium and the other electrolytes also play an important role in muscle function, so it is necessary to them all in balance.
When people think about electrolyte drinks, most think of Gatorade. However what many may not realize is that Gatorade packs in artificial colors, sugars and 75 calories per serving. Gatorade also has no magnesium and only 45mg or potassium and 165 mg of sodium chloride.
I found a product that has more electrolytes and no artificial flavors or sugars. Electrolyte Synergy is a complete and balanced electrolyte formula which can be used to improve symptoms of dehydration, after excessive diarrhea or vomiting, or after excessive sweating, chronic stress fatigue, lethargy, dizziness, cramping or twitching, tachycardia, arrhythmia, heavy legs, irritability and/or noise sensitivity. It contains 106mg of magnesium, 375mg of sodium chloride, 149mg of potassium and only 5 calories per serving. D-Ribose is also included in this powdered formula because of its importance for cardiac function, exercise recovery and energy production. Electrolyte Synergy also contains taurine, a regulator of electrolyte flow in and out of cells and will support maximal assimilation. Children can take Electrolyte Synergy during the flu or any illness involving diarrhea or vomiting to prevent dehydration. Mix electrolyte synergy into any beverage, sports bottle, or put it in water and place in ice rack to make into grape popsicles. Electrolyte Synergy is sugar-free and gets its sweetness from small amounts of natural xylitol and stevia. The natural grape flavoring gives it a great grape taste.