Electrolytes are as electrifying as they sound. When they dissolve in water, they conduct electricity. This helps our cells react and regulate fluid levels. For optimal hydration and health, keep your body fluids and electrolytes in balance.
Electrolytes also improve our total physical performance. They improve our cardiovascular, muscular, nervous and digestive systems.
Our wellbeing diminishes when we have either a lack or excess of water in our bodies. Yet, electrolyte imbalance brings various challenges, especially at the cellular level.
Electrolytes are specific minerals that naturally occur in the fluids of our bodies. When they dissolve in water, electrolytes create an electrical current that regulates our tissues and cells. These are the electrolytes our bodies depend on most:
When we sweat, we lose electrolytes as our body tries to regulate its temperature. Yet, sweat excretes electrolytes, especially sodium. This is why excessive physical training or activity can lead to electrolyte imbalances.
Serious sports professionals track electrolytes carefully, because losing them decreases sports performance. But this is not the only way we can lose electrolytes.
Sometimes electrolyte imbalance reflects an excess rather than a lack of electrolytes. This is most often caused by dehydration or kidney malfunctioning.
Whether you realize it or not, you may have an electrolyte imbalance.
One study revealed that 15 percent of a group of 5179 subjects over the age of 55 had an electrolyte imbalance. The most common form was a lack of sodium or excess of water, known as hyponatremia (7%). The second most common form was an excess of sodium or lack of water (3.3%), known as hypernatremia.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at hyponatremia. With this condition, your body has an excess of water in relation to the level of sodium found in your cells. It makes it difficult for the cells to release the water they hold, so they swell.
This is one of the reasons electrolyte imbalances have mental impacts. This swelling can impact your brain cells by causing headaches and confusion. In the worst cases it can even lead to seizures and coma. A quick drop in sodium can have the most adverse effects.
People who endure intense physical workouts have to be especially careful about keeping their bodies in balance. Hyponatremia may occur when you drink plentiful amounts of plain water without ingesting enough sodium along with it.
People also lose sodium for the following reasons: vomiting, diarrhea, congestive heart failure, kidney failure or taking medications with diuretic side effects.
Several ways to treat this condition include rehydrating with an oral rehydration solution (ORS). You can ingest ORS through IV or as a drink. This solution contains a healthy balance of electrolytes. You can also drink soup broth that contains sodium or eat saltine crackers.
Hypernatremia occurs with a lack of water or an excessive intake of sodium. In this case, the body is overloaded with sodium. It causes the water to transfer from tissues and cells into the blood. Hypernatremia makes our cells shrink when they try to balance the sodium and water levels.
One of the main causes of hypernatremia is dehydration. When you don’t drink enough water throughout the day, your body can undergo profound changes. Don't forget to read our guide on rehydration. It reveals ways you can personalize your hydration routine.
This condition makes you feel thirsty besides feeling restless. It can also cause similar symptoms to Hyponatremia. Drinking water can improve your sodium balance, but the fastest way to rehydrate is through an IV. For severe cases of hypernatremia, medical professionals monitor the patient as they recover until their body achieves balance.