The main electrolytes found in the body are magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphate, chloride and sodium. Each electrolyte has nutrients that help stimulate nerves and balance fluid levels, and so an electrolyte imbalance can be very dangerous.
What do electrolytes do?
- Potassium keeps blood pressure stable, regulates the heartbeat, and helps muscle function.
- Calcium helps muscle contractions, nerve signals, cell division, blood clotting and strengthens bones and teeth.
- Magnesium is needed for muscle strength, nerve function, bone building, digestion, a stable protein-fluid balance and heart rhythms.
- Sodium maintains fluid balance, strengthens muscles and aids nerve signaling.
- Chloride maintains fluid balance.
Where do electrolytes come from?
Electrolytes come from all our foods which are why it is so important to have a balanced and healthy diet. They come from water and fluids too.
Electrolytes are lost from the body through exercise and sweating, as well as urinating.
It is, therefore, important to constantly hydrate and eat well.
How Electrolytes Work
Electrolytes literally have an electric charge. When they dissolve in water they separate into positive and negative ions. Nerves signal to one another, using a process of chemical exchanges. These exchanges need both positive and negative ions. An imbalance will, therefore, hinder nerve signals and messages and result in messages not being carried around the body.
What causes an Electrolyte Imbalance?
- Kidney disease
- Poor diet
- Digestive or intestinal problems
Symptoms can include diarrhea, sweating or high fevers and vomiting.
How to recognize if you have an electrolyte imbalance.
Electrolytes play many important roles within the body. An imbalance will leave you feeling bad pretty quickly. Symptoms can vary as you could be missing different electrolytes. Some of the symptoms are:
- Muscle spasms.
- Muscle weakness, twitches, and aches.
- Heart palpitations
- High or low blood pressure.
- Stomach cramps
- Joint pain
- Numbness and joint pain
- Loss of appetite
How can you diagnose an electrolyte balance?
You can ask your doctor to test your electrolyte levels. You will be asked to give a urine sample and give blood. Your health care practitioner will take a medical history and ask you about your symptoms.
If you are really suffering, you may have an EKG test to look at your heart and an ultrasound or x rays to look at your kidneys.
Your doctor will be able to see from your blood tests if you have high or low electrolytes by testing your magnesium, potassium and sodium levels. These are easy to spot. Levels are measured per liter of blood and an imbalance is diagnosed if your levels are either higher or lower than the normal ranges.
- Sodium: 136-145 mEq/L
- Calcium: 5–5.5 mEq/L
- Chloride: 97–107 mEq/L
- Potassium: 5–5.3 mEq/L
- Magnesium: 1.5-2.5 mEq/L
When should you visit a doctor?
If you suspect an electrolyte imbalance you should consult a doctor or healthcare practitioner immediately. You do not want to have ongoing problems and it is best to nip any health issues in the bud.
If your legs are cramping or spasming, you may have low magnesium or potassium. This is painful. It can come after exercise, or very often at night. Muscle spasms are a clear indication of imbalanced electrolytes.
If your potassium is very high, you may get hyperkalemia. This is when your nerves stop sending the right signals from nerve to muscle. Your muscles become weak. The high potassium will impact your heartbeat, causing racing. This, in turn, will make you feel anxious. And if your calcium levels are too high, pressure is put on the cardiovascular system, changing the electrical pathways to the heart.
The muscles in your digestive system can also be affected. They may not contract if your electrolytes are imbalanced and bowel movements become an issue. Constipation and cramping are a common symptom, you may get hemorrhoids or piles ad you could get diarrhea and nausea too.
High calcium can actually result in bone fractures. It can also result in kidney stones which cause aches in the back.
Imbalances can also cause headaches, disorientation and respiratory problems, similar to dehydration. Stay well hydrated to keep your electrolytes balanced and eat well.
If your sodium levels are low you may experience constant nausea. This is also called hyponatremia.
Anxiety and insomnia
If you are having leg spasms, a racing heartbeat and/or night sweats your nights are going to be disrupted. You may be constantly fatigued but these things are going to keep you up at night.
High sodium levels can cause hypernatremia and you will become dizzy and week. You may become delirious too.
How to treat an Electrolyte Imbalance
Change your diet
This is the most important thing to do. Leave out processed foods as they are usually high in sodium. Replace them with natural products and eat organic where you can. A minor electrolyte balance can be changed by simply eating less junk food and making sure you have all the right nutrients and minerals by eating fruit, vegetables, lean meat and in general fresh food.
Try not to eat take away. Include plenty of leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli and cabbage are good, as are sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados and squash. Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and can change the electrolyte levels in your body.
You need to keep your body hydrated at all times. Drink 8 glasses of water a day if you can. Coconut water is good. Celery, cucumber, kiwi fruit, watermelon, all citrus, carrots and Greek yogurt are very good too.
It is also important to try and keep your water intake consistent. Get to 8 glasses a day and then stick to that. If you are exercising a lot, drink more. If you are in a hot climate, drink more. See what your body needs and keep refreshing. You should be urinating at least every 3 to 4 hours, so if you are not, drink more. And if you are urinating too often you could be drinking too much but you could also have other problems and so check with your doctor.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should drink extra.
Increase your calcium
You can do this with calcium tablets but if you follow a healthy diet with leafy greens, veggies, and particularly legumes, you should get enough natural calcium. Eat raw dairy products, probiotic yogurt, raw milk and cultured raw cheeses too.
Go easy on the salt
Salt draws water, it’s that simple. Control your salt intake by knowing exactly what you are eating. When you eat raw organic foods, there is no salt. When you eat processed foods or take away, there is far too much salt. The higher your diet in sodium, the more water is excreted by the kidneys, the more imbalanced your electrolytes become.
Take a look at your medicines
The most dangerous medicine or treatment that can impact your electrolytes is chemotherapy. Oncologists will always keep a good eye on you as the symptoms can be dire if not managed properly. Cancer patients need to be monitored constantly for electrolyte imbalances, even once the chemo is finished. High calcium levels can stay in the blood after treatment.
Antibiotics can also make an impact, as can blood pressure medication, hormone pills and especially laxatives and diuretics. Laxatives and diuretics can change your electrolytes quickly, so keep hydrated and nourished throughout any illnesses or viruses.
If you have been placed on a new medication, always ask about the side effects and act accordingly.
Hormonal imbalances result in other imbalances too, so keep your hormones balanced. Remember, if you are feeling odd it may well be from an electrolyte imbalance so get your hormones checked out. Talk to your doctor if necessary about treatments.
Always recharge and refuel after exercise
If you look at sportsmen and women they constantly rehydrate. They drink sports drinks and enhanced waters because they have electrolytes in them. It is very important to do this, we cannot stress it in enough. During exercise, your body loses sodium and you sweat. You need to drink extra water to make up for the water lost in sweat. Also, eat a balanced meal afterward and try and include some fruit.
It may be that you have tried everything natural, a good diet and plenty of fluid, but you still have electrolyte issues. Taking magnesium powders or capsules is not a bad idea and will definitely help with muscle cramps, body aches, insomnia and even anxiety. Potassium can be found in a good multivitamin. It is important to take a good supplement though, you do not want to put extra junk into your body.
Source: Family Life Goals