Electrolytes are a few substance in your body which hold a lot of important function, starting from regulate your heartbeat to muscle contraction that allow you to move.
Some of the major electrolytes in your body are calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, phosphate, and chloride. All of those nutrients help your in stimulating nerves throughout your body while at the same time balance fluid levels. So electrolytes imbalance can lead to various issue and some are even potentially deadly.
Certain activities like exercise, sweating, going to the bathroom and urinating make you lose some electrolytes. You can recharge your body with electrolytes buy consuming various foods and drinking certain fluids. You also need to pay attention to your diet and exercise since poor diet and too little or too much exercise can cause an electrolyte imbalance.
Here are some of the major roles of the electrolytes:
- Calcium: helping with the contraction of muscles, signaling the nerves, clotting the blood, dividing cells, and maintaining bone and teeth.
- Potassium: helping maintain blood pressure level, regulate heart contraction, help function of the muscles.
- Magnesium: help in muscle contraction, proper heart rhythm, function of the nerve, building and strengthening bone, reduce anxiety, help in digestion, and keep a stable protein-fluid balance.
- Sodium: help in muscle contraction, maintain fluid balance, helps in signaling the nerves.
- Chloride: maintain fluid balance
How Do the Electrolytes Work and the Causes of an Imbalance
Electrolytes can be found within the fluids in our body like urine, blood and sweat. The name electrolytes was given because they really have an “electric charge” which are separate into positive and negative charged ion when they’re dissolve in water. This is important because of the reaction of the nerves. Our nerves are signaling each other through the process of chemical exchange which depend on the opposite charged ion, inside and outside your cells.
There are several things that cause electrolytes imbalance, including short-term illness, dehydration, medications, and underlying chronic disorder. The most common cause of electrolytes imbalance is fluid loss, which may occur due to the following conditions:
- Some illness that cause symptoms like vomiting, a lot of sweating or high fever, and diarrhea which cause fluid loss or dehydration.
- Poor diet which involves low essential nutrient intake.
- Problem in absorbing nutrients from food (malabsorption) because of intestinal or digestive issues.
- Endocrine disorder and hormonal imbalance.
- Certain medication like drugs to treat hormonal disorder, heart disease, or cancer.
- Taking antibiotics, diuretic medication or corticosteroid hormone.
Kidney disease or damage in the kidney (this organ play an important role in regulating chloride in your blood and excrete potassium, magnesium and sodium).
Treatment for chemotherapy that cause calcium deficiency, change in blood potassium levels, and other electrolyte deficiencies.
Some Symptoms of Electrolytes Imbalance
Electrolytes responsible for many different function in your body, so usually, electrolytes imbalance can be recognize pretty quickly. Below are several symptoms which you may experience, each depend on the type of electrolyte imbalance you experience.
- Fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome)
- Frequent headaches
- Feeling very thirsty
- Change in appetite or body weight
- Confusion trouble in concentrating
- Dizziness, especially when standing suddenly
- Irregular heartbeat or heart palpitation
- Muscle soreness, spasm, twitches, and weakness
- Digestive issue such as cramps, constipation or diarrhea
- Numbness of pain in the joints
- Change in blood pressure
- Joint pain
- Bone disorder
When you go to the doctor, there are several different test that will be done to determine your electrolytes level including discuss your medical history with you to see if there is any reoccurring symptoms, take sample of your urine, and blood test to see if there is any abnormalities.
In some case it may also involve some scanning like EKG test, USG, or x-rays of your kidneys that aim to look for severe electrolyte imbalances to see if your heart is at risk of complication.
What your doctor try to find is some noticeable changed in optimal electrolytes level like very low or high potassium, magnesium or sodium levels. Usually, there are pretty easy to spot because your body work very hard in order to maintain the electrolyte concentration within certain range. If any value fall below or above the normal range below, then you would be diagnosed with electrolyte imbalance.
- Calcium: 5–5.5 mEq/L
- Potassium: 5–5.3 mEq/L
- Magnesium: 1.5-2.5 mEq/L
- Sodium: 136–145 mEq/L
- Chloride: 97–107 mEq/L
So when will be the proper time to talk to your doctor about your possibility of electrolytes imbalance? If you notice some symptoms of electrolytes imbalance, then you better consult to your doctor about the issue to get help in reversing the problem and preventing future occurrence. Below you can find some sign of electrolytes imbalance and the cause for each symptom.
Change in heartbeat: Hyperkalemia is the condition when the potassium level increase to very high. This condition can cause the muscle to be weak, tingly, or numb. Meanwhile, high potassium can also increase your heartbeat and make you feel anxious. High calcium level can also affect cardiovascular system and electrical transmission pathways of the heart. So, another common cause of heartbeat change is very high calcium level.
Muscle spasm: Dehydration or a drop on potassium and magnesium level can cause muscle weakness and spasm. Very low potassium level (hypokalemia) may also cause cramps and constipation. The same goes for low calcium level (hypocalcemia) which can also cause muscle spasm, cramps, abdominal muscle pain and convulsion.
Trouble sleeping and anxiety: Low magnesium levels and high potassium level can cause ongoing pains and mental disturbance which in turn will disrupt your good night sleep. We all know that it is not easy to fall or staying asleep when we suffer from muscle spasm, fast heartbeat or night sweats.
Digestive problems: In order to help you go to the bathroom, the muscle within your digestive tract need to function properly. Abnormal level of electrolytes can cause cramping, constipation, diarrhea, or hemorrhoids. Very low sodium level (hyponatremia) can also cause nausea. If it’s left untreated, some other problems like headaches, disorientation and respiratory problems may also occur.
Pain in the bones: Too high calcium level (hypercalcemia) can cause bone fracture, kidney stone, vomiting, and constipation. You may also suffer from fatigue, weakness, and trouble in concentrating.
Confusion, dizziness, and irritability: This condition can be the result of too high sodium levels (hypernatremia). When the condition get worse, you may also experience delirious, and even a seizure of coma.
Solution for Electrolyte Imbalance
1.Maintain a Healthy Diet
The first thing you need to do to revert electrolyte imbalance is to identify how it developed in the first place. Many people nowadays adopt unhealthy eating habit which contain high process foods that are high in sodium, but low in other electrolytes like potassium or magnesium. This is one of the reason that cause electrolyte imbalance.
Usually, maintaining a healthy diet by replacing junk food and restaurant food with a fresh homemade food can help in correcting electrolyte imbalance. Instead of eating package food, consume some vegetables and fruits that contain potassium and magnesium. Some of the best option for this include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash, avocados, and bananas. Low level of potassium or magnesium can lead to problems like blood abnormal pressure and magnesium deficiency and lead to restlessness, anxiety, and muscle cramps.
Also, focus on some foods that very water-dense to prevent dehydration and restore electrolytes. Below are some water-dense foods that can help you with this issue:
- Coconut Water
- Bell Pepper
- Citrus fruit
- Cultured dairy (yoghurt/kefir/amasai)
Remember to also focus on your calcium intake. Other than dairy products, you can also get calcium from leafy green, beans, legumes, and other veggies. Some organic foods like probiotic yoghurt, cultured raw cheeses and raw milk also provide high level of electrolytes.
2.Control Your Sodium Intake
If you like to consume package or processed food, you need to check the sodium level. Sodium play an important role related to the body’s ability to retain or release water. When you consume food that are high in sodium, more water will be excreted by the kidneys and this condition may cause complication with other electrolytes.
Let us first see how the sodium works within our body. Basically, water follow salt. So if your sodium level increase, water retention will also occur. On the other hand, low level of sodium can result in loss of water from the body which may lead to dehydration and extreme thirst. The condition when there is too much water lost or too high sodium level is called hypernatremia. This condition is more common among people with people with diabetes, older adults, and people who eat a lot of processed foods.
Taking certain diuretics or laxative, diarrhea, extreme exercise, and overtraining without enough water intake can also cause a loss in high level of sodium.
You can prevent problems like lethargy, bloating, weakness, dehydration, irritability, and muscle twitching by controlling your sodium intake.
3.Hydrate Your Body with Enough Water
Electrolytes imbalance can also be a result of changes in the amount of water in your body. Both dehydration and overhydrating can contribute to this issue. You need to drink enough water without over-diluting your cells in order to maintain the optimal level of sodium and potassium.
So, how much is the recommendation of daily water intake? You may already know that the standard recommendation is “eight glasses a day”. However, the best amount may vary from one person to another. There are several factors that determine your daily water intake including your physical activities, the climate, and the kind of foods your normally consume. Your also need to consider your age and body size.
One of the best way to determine how much water you need in a day is by seeing how much. Your water intake should allow you to urinate at least every three to four hours. For most people, it means round 8 – 10 glasses a day.
If you exercise a lot, you need to replenish the fluid excretes when you’re sweating. The same thing goes if you sick (and involve fever that cause vomiting or diarrhea), you need to drink more water to replenish the loss of fluids. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also need to drink a lot (around 10 – 13 cups a day) to stay hydrated.
One thing that you need to keep in mind is, even though you need to drink a lot of water, make sure that you don’t drink too much. Over-hydration is pretty rate, but it is possible. If you drink too much water, your kidney will be unable to process it and thus will cause the electrolytes in the blood become diluted. This can cause the sodium level to be reduced, which usually happened among endurance athletes. Though you may not suffered from this issue if you adopt the standard American diet that is high in salt.
4.Beware of Your Medication
Some of your medication including diuretics, hormonal pills, blood pressure medication, cancer treatments, and also antibiotic can affect the electrolytes level. The most serious condition of electrolytes imbalance usually occur in cancer patients who receive chemotherapy. This condition need to be managed properly or it will lead to some serious problems like high blood calcium levels and other imbalances which can happened after the cancer cells died.
Potassium and sodium levels in the blood and urine can also be affected by laxatives and diuretic. Some diuretic are even considered as “potassium-sparring” since they can cause potassium level to be very high while causing other electrolytes like calcium, magnesium, and sodium to be very low.
It can cause some problems like fast heartbeats, anxiety, digestive issues, and trouble in sleeping. Hormonal interaction from antidiuretic hormone medication, aldosterone, and thyroid hormones, may also cause the development of electrolytes imbalance. Even a severe physiological stress can impair the balance of the electrolytes level.
If you experience changes in mood, energy, heartbeat and sleep, consult to yoru doctor about the possibility of changing your medication dose to minimize electrolytes imbalance risk.
5.Replenish Fluid in the Body After Exercising
Usually, athletes consume fluid and electrolytes during or after training. For so many year, replenishing electrolytes has been recommended by health practitioner. Probably, this is the reason why sport drinks and enhanced water are quite popular. To keep you hydrated, you need to drink enough water before, during, and after exercise if you train for long period of time. This is really necessary to replenish your electrolytes since some electrolytes are lost when you’re sweating.
When you do a short workout, drink another 1.5 – 2.5 cups. If you exercise for more than an hour, add another three extra cups. Lack of water in your body can cause several issues including cardiovascular complication, fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness, and confusion. You need to replace both water and sodium in your body after exercise to re-establish a normal body water levels.
6.Consider Taking Supplements
There are several factors that can result in chronically deficient in some electrolytes including high level of stress, genetic factors, and existing medical conditions. The two most common electrolytes that many people are lack of are magnesium and potassium.
You can solve this issue by taking magnesium supplements daily to maintain the normal level of magnesium in your body and prevent magnesium deficiency. Multivitamins also contain potassium and magnesium. But you need to ensure that you are taking high-quality, food-based vitamin to allow proper absorbance of the electrolytes.