Electrolytes carry numerous functions in the body. They regulate your heartbeat, allow the muscle to contract and much more. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphate and chloride are the major electrolytes in your system.
These stimulate nerves in the body and take care of your fluid levels. Any imbalance may lead to serious consequences, including death.
We usually get our electrolytes through our food and drinks, and lose them through sweating, urinating and pretty much during every process that includes eliminating waste material.
Unhealthy eating habits, improper physical activity, and diseases cause electrolyte imbalances.
The role of electrolytes in the human body:
Calcium is important for muscle contractions, nerve signaling, blood clotting, cell division, and forming/maintaining bones and teeth
Potassium normalizes blood pressure, regulates heart contractions, and takes part in muscle functions
Magnesium: needed for muscle contractions, proper heart rhythms, nerve functioning, bone-building and strength, reducing anxiety, digestion, and keeping a stable protein-fluid balance
Sodium: helps maintain fluid balance, needed for muscle contractions, and helps with nerve signals
Chloride normalizes the balance of fluids.
Electrolytes are present in urine, blood, sweat and bodily fluids in general. How did they get their name? Electrolytes have an electric charge. When dissolved in water, electrolytes separate into positively and negatively charged ions.
Your nerves send signals to each other through a process of chemical exchanges that rely on oppositely charged ions. Electrolyte imbalances are caused by diseases, dehydration, medications and chronic disorders.
Some of the causes of this imbalance are triggered by fluid loss which can be caused by:
-- Illnesses accompanied with vomiting, diarrhea, sweating or high fever
-- Poor eating habits
-- Malabsorption caused by gastrointestinal issues
-- Medication prescribed for cancer, heart disease or hormonal disorders
-- Antibiotics, over-the-counter diuretics or corticosteroid hormones
-- Kidney issues
-- Chemo treatments
-- Keto diet (you lose a lot of magnesium, potassium and sodium)
Signs and symptoms of electrolyte imbalance
You will notice the first symptoms almost instantly. Here are some of them:
- Muscle aches, spasms, twitches and weakness
- Frequent headaches
- Feel very thirsty
- Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats
- Digestive issues like cramps, constipation or diarrhea
- Confusion and trouble concentrating
- Bone disorders
- Joint pain
- Blood pressure changes
- Changes in appetite or body weight
- Fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome)
- Numbness and pain in joints
- Dizziness, especially when standing up suddenly
Your doctor will suggest doing a few tests to check out your electrolyte levels. You will discuss medical history and some of the reoccurring symptoms you notice all the time. Urine and blood tests will identify any change.
EKG test, ultrasound or X-rays of your kidneys may also help in the process.
Electrolyte imbalance is any value higher or lower than the ranges below:
- Calcium: 5–5.5 mEq/L
- Chloride: 97–107 mEq/L
- Potassium: 5–5.3 mEq/L
- Magnesium: 1.5-2.5 mEq/L
- Sodium: 136–145 mEq/L
We give you some of the most common signs of electrolyte balance:
1. Changes in heartbeat
Hyperkalemia is common in those dealing with high potassium levels. It affects with the normal signals nerves send to muscles, resulting in weak, numb or tingly muscles.
High potassium levels affect heartbeat, causing rapid rhythm and anxiety. High calcium levels result in heartbeat changes.
2. Anxiety and insomnia
Muscle spasms “kill” your good night’s sleep. The same applies to fast heartbeat and night sweats. Low magnesium and high potassium levels lead to insomnia.
3. Muscle spasms
Low potassium and magnesium levels cause cramps and constipation. Low calcium levels cause muscle spasms, cramps, abdominal muscle pain and convulsions.
4. Digestive issues
Hormone imbalances may lead to diarrhea, constipation, cramps and hemorrhoids. Nausea is sometimes triggered by low sodium levels or hyponatremia. It’s a condition accompanied by headaches, disorientation, and respiratory issues.
5. Bone pain
High calcium levels lead to bone fractures, kidney stones, vomiting and constipation. It makes you tired, and week, and you are also likely to deal with concentration issues.
6. Confusion, dizziness and irritability
High sodium levels make you dizzy and weak. If not treated on time, you will become delirious and in some cases, hypernatremia may cause seizure or coma.
Treat electrolyte imbalances
1. Fix your menu
Avoid junk food and processed products. Cook your own meals, and opt for fresh food. Whole unpackaged foods are always a better idea. Eat leafy greens, cruciferous veggies (broccoli and cabbage), starchy veggies (squash and sweet potatoes), bananas and avocados.
Consume the following foods and drinks to prevent dehydration:
- Coconut water
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruit
- Cultured dairy (amasai/kefir/yogurt)
2. Regulate your sodium intake
Sodium affects your body’s ability to retain or release fluids. High sodium intake leads to excessive excretion of water through kidneys.
Eating too much sodium leads to water retention. Low sodium intake results in loss of water, leading to dehydration and thirst.
3. Drink plenty of water
Electrolyte imbalances happen when your fluid balance is out of control. Drink enough water will keep you electrolytes in perfect balance. You don’t want to overhydrate your body though.
The right amount of water depends on your needs, physical activity, weight, weather, sweating, and diet.
You should urinate at least every 3-4 hours which is why you should drink around 8-10 eight ounce glasses per day.
If you exercise a lot, make sure you drink a lot of water and keep your electrolytes balanced.
Drink enough water in cases of vomiting and diarrhea. Pregnant and breastfeeding moms should drink enough water, too (10-13 cups a day).
4. Do you take medication?
Antibiotics, diuretics, hormonal pills, blood pressure medications and cancer therapy treatments affect electrolyte levels.
Laxatives and diuretics affect potassium and sodium levels.
5. Add fuel after exercising
You sweat a lot after every workout. Drink some water before, during and after your exercise. If you work out often, drink more water than usual, and replenish your electrolytes.
Stress, genes and illnesses cause changes in electrolyte levels. Consider taking multivitamins, and always use high-quality, food-based vitamin to ease the absorption of electrolytes. There are supplements that are full of toxins and junk, so beware of these.