Several of the automatic processes that we take for granted in our body are dependent on a tiny electrical current to function. This current or charge is provided by electrolytes when they mix with water. Electrolytes engage with tissues, muscles, nerves and with each other. A balance of different electrolytes is key to regular functioning of the body as they are what our cells like the nerve, heart and muscle cells, use to maintain voltages across their cell membranes.
The presence of electrolytes in our bodies makes sure that our damaged tissues are repaired and the nerve and muscle functions are well regulated. They also ensure that our body stays hydrated and blood acidity and pressure are maintained. The muscles and neurons rely on the movement of electrolytes through and in between cells.
The electrolytes our bodies need are:
A complex and interdependent interplay of these electrolytes is at the core of normal human body functions. If the level is too low or too high, it is called an electrolyte imbalance. Consuming too little or too much electrolyte as well as excreting too little or too much of them can cause an imbalance.
There can be several factors that impact the balance of electrolytes, the most common being the level of water in the body. Sweating during intense exercise, diarrhea or vomiting can instigate this imbalance rapidly. Low levels of electrolytes can also affect overall health. The most common imbalances are of sodium and potassium. It is important in these cases to replace the electrolytes to a healthy level.
In the natural course of things, kidneys regulate the appropriate fluid and electrolyte balance. If levels are high, the kidneys filter it from the body, and different hormones help to bring them back to balanced levels. In some cases of electrolyte imbalance other factors such as hormonal changes and physiological stress play a role.
When the concentration of a certain electrolyte becomes higher than the body can regulate, it presents a health issue.
Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance depend on which of the electrolytes is out of balance i.e is too much or too little. An incorrect amount of magnesium, sodium, potassium, or calcium can produce one or more of these following symptoms:
- irregular heartbeat
- weakness and excessive fatigue
- bone issues
- blood pressure changes
- disorders of the nervous system
- muscle spasm
There are several factors that can contribute to electrolyte imbalance, including malnutrition, kidney disease, severe dehydration, use of some drugs such as diuretics and cancer treatment. Age can also be a cause as kidneys become less efficient as we grow older.
Staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy diet that is abundant in fresh green leafy vegetables, fruit and dairy can help keep us maintain electrolyte balance, so that our systems stay strong and chugging with good health.