Electrolytes are essential minerals found in your body that have an electric charge. They are found in your urine, blood, tissues, and other bodily fluids, and your body needs the right electrolyte balance to be able to carry out an array of critical bodily functions every single day.
These important minerals play a crucial role because they help your body to:
- Balance water and other body fluids
- Move nutrients into your cells
- Move wastes out of your cells
- Balance your body’s acid/base (pH) level
- Make sure your muscles, nerves, the heart, and the brain work properly, especially in terms of muscle contraction (like keeping your heart rhythm!)
There are many examples of electrolytes that make up the human body, but arguably the most important three are sodium, potassium, and magnesium. In this article, we'll look into these crucial minerals to learn what they are, why they are important, and why we need them - let’s dive in!
What exactly are electrolytes?
Electrolytes weren’t given the name electro-lytes by accident! These vital minerals conduct electrical charges in your body. Every single message sent through your nervous system involves electrical transmissions (also called nerve impulses) between nerve cells. Your body requires electrolytes - specifically potassium and sodium - in order for these nerve impulses to fire.
Electrolytes have other functions too! They help to regulate fluid balance, strengthen bones, and help you to produce more energy. We will touch on more of these functions below.
The primary electrolytes are sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Sodium is the major positive ion in fluid outside of cells. The chemical notation for sodium is Na+. When combined with the mineral chloride, the resulting substance is table salt (sodium chloride). Sodium is an essential mineral with many functions, such as:
- Regulates fluid balance (blood flow)
- Helps conduct nerve impulses
- Regulates blood pressure
- Promotes the release of vasopressin which helps you to get a good night's rest
- Increases the absorption of certain nutrients through the gut
Many processes in the body - especially the nervous system, brain, and muscles - require electrical signals for communication. The movement of the mineral sodium is critical in the generation of these electrical signals. With that being said, too much sodium (hypernatremia) or too little sodium (hyponatremia) can cause cells to malfunction.
While sodium is found outside the cells, the electrolyte potassium is found inside the cells. The chemical notation for potassium is K+. Proper electrolyte levels for this electrolyte in particular is crucial for normal cell function, especially muscle function. When sodium and potassium get together, these two electrolytes are important for:
- Fluid balance - allowing blood to flow through the vessels
- Healthy blood pressure - potassium balances the blood-pressure raising effects that are associated with sodium. In addition, high potassium intakes are linked to a decreased risk of stroke.
- Conducting nerve impulses - sodium and potassium allow nerve impulses to fire effectively and efficiently.
With that in mind, it goes without saying that potassium is important! However, the problem is that less than three percent of Americans consume the FDA-recommended potassium level of 4.7 grams per day - and that number isn’t arbitrary. There is solid evidence that higher potassium intake can mitigate hypertension or high blood pressure.
To get the daily recommended dose of this mineral, try reaching for healthy fruits and vegetables that are naturally loaded with potassium, like spinach, avocado, tomato, and dried apricots. However, if you are one of the many Americans living your life on the go, an electrolyte supplement might be more up your alley! Check out Adapted Nutritions Hi-Lyte Concentrate--it's designed by nature to be potent and fast-absorbing in order to fuel your body with the electrolytes it needs to support your healthy and busy lifestyle.
Last on the list but certainly not least, is magnesium. Like potassium, this is another electrolyte that most folks tend to have a low level of or even be completely deficient in (known as hypomagnesemia). Commonly referred to as the relaxation mineral, magnesium is arguably the most important electrolyte in the body because it is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body - wow!
- Helps muscles (including your heart) to contract
- Aids in energy (ATP) production
- Builds bones
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Contributes to DNA synthesis
The best dietary source of this super mineral is dark leafy greens like chard, kale, and spinach. Not a fan of veggies? That’s okay, because supplements are available! Reach for a high-quality supplement like Adapted Nutritions Hi-Mag to make sure you are providing your body with the nutrients it needs to function at its best.
If your levels of electrolytes aren't quite where they're supposed to be, chances are you aren’t feeling very well. It’s almost like being low on motor oil. You might be able to squeak by for a little while but eventually, the affair will result in a tow truck and an ungodly repair bill - and who wants to deal with that!
When your electrolyte replacement game hasn't been its best, some of the signs that you may be running low on these important minerals include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle weakness
- Dry mouth
- Digestive issues
Believe it or not, electrolyte imbalances are actually pretty common, with two of the most common deficiencies being for potassium levels (hypokalemia) and calcium levels (hypocalcemia). It's easy enough to test for an electrolyte imbalance by doing an electrolyte panel, a blood test specifically designed to measure your blood electrolyte levels.
Some of the major causes of electrolyte imbalance and deficiency include:
Many people are under the impression that drinking gallons and gallons of water is always healthier, so many athletes tend to guzzle large volumes of H2O right before, during, and after a workout or event. However, the truth is that excessive water consumption can actually dilute blood sodium levels, which can lead to muscle cramps fatigue, and even confusion. Even with sports drinks that have electrolytes, overhydration is still a risk.
If you are one to keep up with the fitness industry, then we are sure you have heard a thing or two about low-carb diets like keto. When you follow a low carb diet, you are essentially sacrificing many electrolyte-rich foods like starchy fruits and some vegetables. A good way to stick to your diet while still getting the vitamins and minerals your body craves is simply by incorporating a great electrolyte supplement like the ones sold at Adapted Nutrition!
Whole foods are good. Processed foods are bad. However, eliminating processed foods from your diet will lower your sodium intake because a whole foods diet is naturally low in salt. Now, we aren’t saying to go to the nearest fast food drive-thru to get your daily dose of salt from processed foods, but we are saying that salt is an incredibly important electrolyte, so it might be a good idea to supplement it! Try Adapted Nutritions Sea Salt Capsules for rapid rehydration.
There are many electrolytes that make up your body, but the primary three are sodium, potassium, and magnesium. These three super minerals work together to keep your body functioning properly to help support a healthy lifestyle, so make sure to follow our tips above to ensure your electrolyte levels are at their best!