Have you ever wondered what electrolytes are found in drinks?
We all know that they are important for hydration especially in athletes but Why? Aren’t they just sales?
Your body is a carefully balanced highway of complex cells, tissues and fluids that direct an incomprehensible series of electrical impulses almost every second. This is only possible because cells, tissues and fluids are managed and maintained in a homeostatic environment where they conduct enough electricity to carry signals to their destinations.
The key to maintaining this driving highway lies with our friend: «the electrolyte»
What are electrolytes?
The electrolytes are salts that exist in the nature in the form of minerals. When salts are dissolved in liquid, their components tend to separate in the form of ions from their creating an electrically conductive solution.
There are several common electrolytes found in the body but each one fulfills a specific and important function, electrolytes are partly responsible for maintaining fluid balance between the intracellular (inside the cell) and extracellular (outside the cell) environments. This balance is very important for processes like nerve impulses, hydration, muscle function, and pH level.
An electrolyte imbalance, either too much or too little, can be very detrimental to your health. Muscle contraction, for example, requires calcium, potassium, and sodium; deficiency can lead to muscle weakness or severe cramps. Too much sodium, on the other hand, can cause high blood pressure and significantly increase your risk of heart disease. Don’t get too concerned about maintaining a balance in your electrolytes, luckily, electrolyte levels are mostly determined by the consumption of food and water.
To maintain a proper balance it just comes down to proper nutrition.
Let’s take a look at the seven main electrolytes found in the human body to get a better idea of what each one does and why they are important.
Electrolytes, their function and benefits
1. Sodium (Na +)
An essential electrolyte for humans, sodium is responsible for controlling the total amount of water in the body. It is also important for regulating blood volume and maintaining muscle and nerve function. Sodium is the main positively charged ion (cation) outside the body’s cells and is found primarily in blood, plasma, and lymphatic fluid. The minimum requirement for the body to function properly is 500 mg per day, with a recommended intake of 2.3 g.
Too much sodium in body fluids is called hypernatremia, and it usually occurs from having too little water in the body – this is called dehydration.
2. Chloride (Cl-)
The main negatively charged ion (anion); Chloride is found primarily in extracellular fluid and works closely with sodium to maintain the balance and pressure of the body’s various fluid compartments (blood, within cells, and the fluid between cells). It is also of vital importance for maintaining adequate acidity in the body and passively balancing the positive ions of blood, tissues and organs.
Like sodium, chloride is obtained through salt in the diet.
3. Potassium (K +)
Potassium is the main cation inside cells and is of great importance for the regulation of heartbeat and muscle function. It forms the other half of the electrical pump that keeps electrolytes in balance and allows conductivity between cells, also making potassium a critical part of neuronal transmission.
Meat, milk, fruits, and vegetables are usually good sources of potassium, but most adults still don’t have enough in their diets. The balance between potassium and sodium is very important to maintain our health, but often bodybuilders forget to eat natural fruits and vegetables full of potassium in favor of processed foods loaded with sodium (fast food). What’s worse, potassium and sodium imbalance can increase your risk of hypertension, heart disease, and even strokes.
4. Magnesium (Mg + +)
Magnesium may be the most underrated mineral in your nutritional arsenal. Not only is it necessary for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, but it also plays an important role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, essential for every cell in every known living organism. The fourth most common mineral in the human body, magnesium helps maintain normal nerve and muscle function, stimulates the immune system, maintains a stable heart rate, stabilizes blood sugar, and promotes the formation of bones and teeth. Nuts, spices, green leafy vegetables, coffee, and tea are generally good sources of this mineral.
5. Calcium (Ca + +)
You probably already know that calcium is necessary for the formation of bones and teeth, but what you don’t know is that it is also essential for the transmission of nerve impulses, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. Being the most abundant mineral in the body, about 99% of all calcium is found in the skeletal structure, but your body also needs a balance in blood and other cells (especially muscle cells). If there is not enough calcium in the blood, it is taken from the bones to supply the deficiency, if not controlled, this lack of calcium can eventually lead to Osteoporosis.
The recommended intake of calcium is 1000 to 1500 mg per day to maintain adequate levels in the bloodstream and avoid weakening of the bones
6. Phosphate (HPO4-)
Second to calcium, phosphorus remains the most abundant mineral in the body, 85% of which is found in bones as phosphate. Phosphate anion works closely with calcium to strengthen bones and teeth, but it is also essential for the production of energy within cells, necessary for tissue growth and repair, and is a fundamental building block for the cell membranes and DNA.
7. Bicarbonate (HCO3-)
When acids accumulate through metabolic processes or the production of lactic acid in the muscles, the kidneys release bicarbonate (an alkaline solution) into your system to counteract the increase in acidity. When your body stabilizes, the kidneys will decrease the amount of bicarbonate to increase acidity. Without this system, rapid changes in the pH balance can lead to serious problems in the body such as damaging the sensitive tissue around the central nervous system. This bicarbonate process is one of the biggest reasons our body can maintain homeostasis and function properly.
Fortunately, now that you know exactly what electrolytes are and how they should be balanced, the solution is simple – “eat a healthy, natural diet”