The electrolytes as well as nutrients have high importance for our body. Most of the electrolytes in our body are potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, and phosphate. They help in stimulating the nerves through the body, balancing fluid levels. If there is an imbalance of the electrolytes, then it may lead to different health conditions, while some potentially deadly.
Major roles of electrolytes:
- Calcium – it helps with contraction of muscles, nerve signaling, blood clotting, forming and maintaining bones and teeth, and cell division;
- Chloride – maintains balance of fluids;
- Sodium – maintains fluid balance, helps with nerve signaling, and helps with muscle contractions;
- Potassium – regulates blood pressure, heart contractions, help with the function of muscles;
- Magnesium – helping for muscle contraction, proper heart rhythm, bone strength and building, nerve functioning, reducing anxiety, digestion, and keeping a stable balance of the protein fluid.
How the electrolytes actually work and what causes the imbalance?
Electrolytes can be found in all body fluids like blood, sweat, and urine. They have an electric charge, separating positively and negatively charged ions when dissolved in water. The nerves signal other nerves through chemical exchanges dependent on oppositely charged ions, inside and outside the cells.
The causes for imbalance of electrolytes are the following:
- Chemotherapy treatments (they cause side effects of low blood calcium, or calcium deficiency, changes in potassium levels, and other electrolyte deficiencies);
- Kidney damage or disease (they play a vital role in regulating chloride in the blood and flushing out potassium, magnesium, and sodium);
- Taking antibiotics (medications and diuretics over-the-counter, or even corticosteroid hormones);
- Taking some medications (for treating cancer, hormonal disorders, or heart disease);
- Endocrine disorders or hormonal imbalance;
- Not being able to absorb food nutrients (malabsorption – because of digestive or intestinal problems);
- Poor diet (especially low in nutrients from whole foods);
- Being sick (including symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, or high fevers which cause dehydration and fluid loss).
What are the signs and symptoms of electrolyte imbalance?
- Feeling thirsty;
- Frequent headaches;
- Muscle aches, spasms, twitches, and weakness;
- Changes in body weight and appetite;
- Changes in blood pressure;
- Pain in joints;
- Disorder in bones;
- Trouble concentrating and confusion;
- Cramps, constipation, or diarrhea;
- Irregular heartbeats or heart palpitations;
- Dizziness, especially when standing up suddenly;
- Pain in joints and numbness;
- Fatigue (including chronic fatigue symptom).
Your doctor should perform a couple of different tests in order to determine the levels of electrolyte. Your medical history will be discussed, and you will have to provide urine and blood samples to identify any abnormalities. EKG tests are sometimes necessary, as well as ultrasound and X-rays of kidneys to check on severe imbalances of electrolytes. Any noticeable changes in optimal electrolyte levels will be looked at by your doctor. Their levels are being measured per liter of blood, and the imbalance is being diagnosed when the values are higher or lower than the normal ranges.
- Calcium: 5-5.5 mEq/L
- Chloride: 97-107 mEq/L
- Potassium: 5-5.3 mEq/L
- Magnesium: 1.5-2.5 mEq/L
- Sodium: 136-145 mEq/L
Common signs of experiencing electrolyte imbalance
- Heartbeat changes – hyperkalemia develops when the potassium levels rise very high. The condition interferes with the normal signals from nerves and muscles, resulting in weak, tingly, or numb muscles. High potassium impacts the heartbeat, causing you feel anxious, while high calcium levels affect the cardiovascular system and electrical transmission pathways of the heart, causing heartbeat changes.
- Anxiety and trouble sleeping – when having muscle spasms, night sweats, or fast heartbeat it is very hard to fall asleep. Low magnesium levels make you feel tired, while high potassium can cause trouble getting rest due to ongoing pains and mental disturbances.
- Digestive issues – high or low levels of electrolytes can cause diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and hemorrhoids. Low sodium levels can cause nausea, followed by headaches, disorientation, and respiratory issues when left unresolved.
- Muscle spasms – when the body is dehydrated, potassium and magnesium levels fall, causing muscle weakness, and spasms. Low potassium levels can cause cramps and constipation, while low calcium levels cause muscle spasms, cramps, abdominal muscle pain, and convulsions.
- Confusion, dizziness, and irritability – when the sodium levels are too high, you may become weak and dizzy. If this condition worsens, you can become more delirious, experience a seizure, or coma.
- Bone pain – very high calcium levels may result in bone fractures, painful kidney stones, constipation, and vomiting. This will make you tired, weak, and you will have troubles concentrating.
Ways to solve electrolyte imbalance
- Adjust your diet – first you need to identify how developed is the electrolyte imbalance. Poor diet high in processed food with lots of sodium, however, if the diet is low in magnesium and potassium, it can lead to dangerous imbalance. Dietary changes can improve the imbalance through cooking fresh foods at home, and cutting on junk foods, takeout, and restaurant foods. You should consume more leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, sweet potatoes, squash, bananas, and avocados. You may also turn to coconut water, cucumber, watermelon, celery, pineapple, amasai, kefir, yogurt, carrots, citrus fruits, bell peppers, and kiwi to prevent dehydration.
You can obtain calcium through high quality dairy products (probiotic yogurt, cultured raw cheese, raw milk), and through leafy greens, vegetables, beans, and legumes.
- Monitor your sodium intake – check the sodium levels when consuming packaged or processed foods. Sodium retains or releases water, thus if your diet is high in this electrolyte, more water will be excreted by the kidneys, causing complications with balancing other electrolytes. If you monitor the sodium intake you could keep symptoms at bay like bloating, lethargy, dehydration, weakness, irritability, and muscle twitching. You should drink more water, eat whole foods, and obtain other important electrolytes.
- Drink enough water – when the amount of water in your body changes, electrolyte imbalance changes. This can cause dehydration, thus if you drink water without over-diluting your cells will stop the levels of sodium and potassium raise very high, or too low. It depends on your age, diet, physical activity level, and body size in order to determine how much water should be consumed. The recommended dose for every person is to drink water enough so that they can urinate each 3-4 hours, which makes it 10 glasses per day. If you exercise vigorously, have been sick, women who are pregnant, or breast-feeding, as well as teens that grow and develop faster, need to consume more water than the recommended dose. Over-hydration is rare, but yes, it’s possible. Your kidneys are unable to excrete very high levels of excess water, so this can mean electrolytes within the blood can become diluted. The result might be low sodium levels, which is more common among endurance athletes.
- Check your medications – electrolyte levels can be impacted by antibiotics, diuretics, hormonal pills, blood pressure medications, and cancer treatments. Cancer patients who receive chemotherapy have the most serious imbalance. Laxatives and diuretics change potassium and sodium levels in the blood and urine. There are certain diuretics which can cause potassium levels stay very high, while other electrolytes very low, resulting in anxiety, fast heartbeats, digestive issues, and trouble sleeping. Hormonal interactions from anti-diuretic hormone medications, aldosterone and thyroid hormones can develop electrolyte imbalances, too.
- Refuel after exercising – drink enough water before, during, and after exercising so that you keep your body hydrated. If you are training for a longer period of time, then you should replenish your electrolyte stores as some of them may be lost through sweat.
- Consider supplementing – high stress levels, genetic factors, and some medical conditions can lead to chronical deficiency in some electrolytes, thus taking magnesium supplements can help replenish the stores and prevent magnesium deficiency. Potassium and magnesium are present in multivitamins.