What are electrolytes? Electrolytes are indeed certain nutrients (or chemicals) that happen to be present in one’s body that have many important functions — from regulating one’s heartbeat to allowing one’s muscles to contract so one can move.
The major electrolytes found within the body do include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphate, and chloride. As these crucial nutrients do help stimulate nerves throughout one’s body and balance fluid levels, an electrolyte imbalance can indeed cause a variety of serious negative symptoms, including some that are potentially deadly.
One can obtain electrolytes through eating different foods and drinking certain fluids, while one loses them partially through exercise, sweating, going to the bathroom as while urinating. Poor diet and less or too much exercise is not good and being sick are some possible causes for an electrolyte imbalance.
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Electrolytes do include:
Calcium: helping with muscle contractions, nerve signaling, blood clotting, cell division, and forming/maintaining bones and teeth
Potassium: helps keep one’s blood pressure levels stable, regulating heart contractions, helping with muscle functions
Magnesium: This is required for muscle contractions, proper heart rhythms, nerve functioning, bone-building as well as strength, reducing anxiety, digestion, and also keeping a stable protein-fluid balance
Sodium: This helps maintain fluid balance, needed for muscle contractions, and helps with nerve signaling
Chloride: maintains fluid balance
How Electrolytes Work and the Causes of an Imbalance?
Electrolytes are found within bodily fluids, including urine, blood, and sweat. Electrolytes are indeed given their name because they literally have an “electric charge.” They do separate into positively and negatively charged ions when they are dissolved in water.
The reason this is important is because of how nerve reactions to take place. One’s nerves signal to one another by a process of chemical exchanges dependent on oppositely charged ions, both outside and inside of one’s cells.
An electrolyte imbalance can be caused by a number of different factors, including short-term illnesses, medications, dehydration as well as underlying chronic disorders. Some of the common causes of electrolyte imbalance are due to fluid loss, which can also stem from situations including:
Being sick with symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, sweating or high fevers that can¬ indeed all produce fluid loss or dehydration
- A poor diet that happens to be low in essential nutrients from whole foods
- Trouble absorbing nutrients from food (malabsorption) due to intestinal or digestive issues
- Hormonal imbalances and endocrine disorders
- Taking certain medications including those for treating cancer, heart disease or hormonal disorders
- Taking antibiotics, over-the-counter diuretics or medications, or corticosteroid hormones
- Kidney disease or damage (since the kidneys play a critical role in regulating chloride in your blood and “flushing out” potassium, magnesium, and sodium)
- Chemotherapy treatments, which can cause side effects of low blood calcium or calcium deficiency, changes in blood potassium levels, and other electrolyte deficiencies
Being on the keto diet, where even if you’re drinking a lot of water, you will lose a lot of water weight and also flush essential electrolytes out of our system, including magnesium, potassium or sodium. Adding bone broth is a great way to replenish these naturally, in addition to getting other nutrients and amino acids.
Signs and Symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance
Because electrolytes have so many different roles within one’s body, an imbalance normally does cause noticeable changes in how one feels pretty quickly. Depending on the type of electrolyte imbalance one experience, a number of symptoms can also occur including:
• Muscle aches, spasms, twitches, and weakness
• Frequent headaches
• Feely very thirsty
• Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats
• Digestive issues like cramps, constipation or diarrhea
• Confusion and trouble concentrating
• Bone disorders
• Changes in appetite or body weight
• Joint pain
• Blood pressure changes
• Fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome)
• Numbness and pain in joints
• Dizziness, especially when standing up suddenly
To diagnose an electrolyte imbalance, one’s doctor can perform a few different tests to determine one’s electrolyte levels. Most likely one’s health care provider will discuss one’s medical history with one, any reoccurring symptoms one does experience, and take a urine and blood test to identify any abnormalities.
It is also sometimes necessary to have an EKG test, ultrasound or X-rays of your kidneys in order to look for severe electrolyte imbalances that can put one at risk for heart complications.
One’s doctor will look for any noticeable changes in optimal electrolyte levels, including very high or low potassium, magnesium or sodium levels. These are rather fairly easy to spot since the body does work very hard to keep electrolyte concentrations within a narrow range.
When does one have to approach a doctor for electrolyte imbalance?
If one can identify with the descriptions of electrolyte imbalance symptoms below, it is best to consult a health care provider
Common signs of electrolyte imbalance:
Changes in Heartbeat:
When potassium does rise to very high levels, a condition called hyperkalemia does develop. This does interfere with the normal signals sent from nerves to muscles, which can result in muscles becoming weak, tingly or numb. At the same time, high potassium can impact one’s heartbeat and cause rapid rhythms that make one feel anxious. Also, one of the main effects of high calcium levels is on the cardiovascular system and electrical transmission pathways of the heart, so very high calcium levels are of course another common cause of heartbeat changes.
Anxiety and Trouble Sleeping:
Most of us know how hard it is to fall and stay asleep when one has muscle spasms, a fast heartbeat or night sweats. Despite feeling like one is tired, low magnesium levels and high potassium can cause trouble getting good rest because of ongoing pains and mental disturbances.
When dehydration does occur or potassium and magnesium levels fall abruptly, muscle weakness and spasms are usually the initial signs. Very low potassium levels (hypokalemia) can indeed cause cramps and constipation. Low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) also does cause muscle spasms, cramps, abdominal muscle pain, and convulsions.
The muscles within one’s digestive tract need to contract properly in order to help one to go to the bathroom. So either high or low levels of electrolytes can also result in diarrhea, constipation, cramping or hemorrhoids. Nausea is also sometimes caused by very low sodium levels (called hyponatremia). This same condition can indeed be followed by headaches, disorientation, and respiratory problems when it is left unresolved.
Very high calcium levels (called hypercalcemia) can indeed result in bone fractures, painful kidney stones, vomiting, and constipation. The same condition can also make one feel tired and weak, with trouble concentrating.
Confusion, Dizziness, and Irritability:
When one’s sodium levels rise too drastically (called hypernatremia), one can become dizzy and weak. When this worsens, it is possible to become even more delirious and even experience a seizure or coma.
How to Solve an Electrolyte Imbalance
1. Adjusting one’s diet
One must avoid poor diet. Junk food is not good. One must eat plenty of vegetables and fruits that provide potassium and magnesium such as leafy greens, cruciferous veggies like broccoli or cabbage, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash, bananas, as well as avocados. One must have a diet rich in potassium. Low potassium levels can lead to blood pressure problems or magnesium deficiency can contribute to anxiety, restlessness and muscle cramps.
In order to prevent dehydration and restore electrolytes, one must have foods such as:
• Coconut water
• Bell peppers
• Citrus fruit
• Cultured dairy (amasai/kefir/yogurt)
2. Monitor Your Sodium Intake
While consuming packaged or processed foods, one needs to check the sodium levels. Sodium is an electrolyte that does play an important role in one’s body’s ability to retain or release water. In case one’s diet is very high in sodium, more water is excreted by the kidneys, and this can cause complications with balancing other electrolytes.
By monitoring how much sodium one consumes one can keep such symptoms at bay that include bloating, lethargy, dehydration, weakness, irritability and muscle twitching. Drinking water and eating mostly whole foods does help.
3. Drink Enough Water (but Not Too Much)
Electrolyte imbalances can indeed develop when the amount of water in one’s body changes, either causing dehydration (not enough water compared to certainly elevated electrolytes) or over-hydration (too much water). Drinking enough water, without over-diluting one’s cells, helps stop levels of sodium and potassium from rising too high or too low.
If one goes in for vigorous exercise (especially in warm/hot weather that increases sweat production), one must replenish with plenty of water and electrolytes. In case one has been sick (including with a fever that causes vomiting or diarrhea), one must keep in mind that one loses fluids and should increase one’s intake. If not, then there is the risk of developing dehydration symptoms, kidney stones, bladder infections, urinary tract stones and potentially even heart failure. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also need additional fluids (about 10–13 cups every day) in order to stay hydrated. Growing teenagers also need to be well hydrated and older people.
4. Check Your Medications
Antibiotics, diuretics, hormonal pills, blood pressure medications, and cancer treatments can all impact one’s electrolyte levels. The most serious forms of electrolyte imbalances usually appear in cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy. Their symptoms can be very serious when not properly managed and does include high blood calcium levels or other imbalances that develop when cancer cells die off.
Laxatives or diuretics also change potassium and sodium levels within the blood and urine. If one has started a new medication or supplement and notice changes in one’s mood, energy, heartbeat and sleep, one need to consult the doctor about possibly changing one’s dose to minimize electrolyte imbalance risks.
5. Refuel after Exercise
Fluids and electrolytes (usually in the form of extra sodium) are indeed commonly consumed by athletes during or after training. One needs to be hydrated during a prolonged period of time. One needs to drink extra water.
If sufficient water is not actually present in one’s body, dehydration and deficits can cause cardiovascular complications (changes to heartbeats), muscle cramping, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. Both water and sodium need to be replaced after workouts for normal water levels in one’s body.
6. Consider Supplementing
On account of high-stress levels, genetic factors or existing medical conditions, some people can also be chronically deficient in some electrolytes. Magnesium and potassium are two electrolytes that many people do tend to be low in. Taking magnesium supplements daily can indeed help replenish stores and also prevent magnesium deficiency that is responsible for symptoms such as anxiety, trouble sleeping or muscle cramps. Potassium and magnesium are usually present in multi-vitamins and high-quality; food-based vitamins do help.