Ever wonder why when we are severely dehydrated as diabetics or when we are dealing with an extreme high blood sugar our medical team tells us to make sure we replenish our electrolytes? I mean, what is an electrolyte anyway, what are the symptoms of low electrolytes and how can they help us as diabetics or if your just out mowing the lawn? Diabetic or not, they are extremely important when it comes to our overall health so lets take a closer look!
When dissolved in fluid, salts tend to break apart into their component ions, creating an electrically-conductive solution. For example, table salt (NaCl) dissolved in water dissociates into its component positive ion of sodium (Na+) and negative ion of chloride (Cl-). Any fluid that conducts electricity, such as this new saltwater solution, is known as an electrolyte solution: the salt ions of which it’s composed are then commonly referred to as electrolytes. So that leads us to the next question…
What Are Electrolytes?
There are several common electrolytes found in the body, each serving a specific and important role, but most are in some part responsible for maintaining the balance of fluids between the intracellular (inside the cell) and extracellular (outside the cell) environments. This balance is critically important for things like hydration, nerve impulses, muscle function, and pH levels.
With the correct body water balance, the electrolytes separate into positive and negative ions. When the body loses water or becomes dehydrated an electrolyte imbalance starts to occur. During heavy exercise, sodium and potassium electrolytes in particular are lost through sweating. To ensure constant electrolyte concentrations in the body, fluids must be regularly consumed.
To avoid an electrolyte imbalance which can cause lethargy and muscle twitching, athletes consume electrolyte solution drinks to make sure the electrolyte balance is maintained during and after exercise – this contributes to achieving optimum performance
You should drink frequently during strenuous physical activity. Thirst usually does not kick in until well after you have reached a state of dehydration, so consume plenty of fluid whether you feel like it or not. About 6 to 8 ounces every 15 minutes is sufficient. Help replace electrolytes by consuming a beverage that contains 0.7 milligrams of salt per quart of fluid. Consuming fruit slices, such as bananas, strawberries and oranges can help restore lost potassium, but obviously we still need to be careful here and a small bolus may be needed.
7 Major Electrolytes & Their Function:
Let’s take a look:
- Sodium (Na+)
- Chloride (Cl-)
- Potassium (K+)
- Magnesium (Mg++)
- Calcium (Ca++)
- Phosphate (HPO4–)
- Bicarbonate (HCO3-)
So what do each of these to?
Sodium (NA+) is the major positive ion in fluid outside of cells (extracellular) and when combined with chloride the resulting substance is table salt. Some functions of sodium include the regulation of the total amount of water in the body and the transmission of sodium into and out of individual’s cells, which plays a role in critical body functions. Many processes in the body, especially in the brain, nervous system, and muscles require electrical signals for communication. The movement of sodium is critical in generation of these electrical signals. Too much or too little sodium can cause cells to malfunction and extremes in the blood sodium levels.
Potassium (K+) is the major positive ion found inside of cells. Some of the functions of K+ are the regulation of heartbeat and muscle function. The proper level of potassium is essential for normal cell function. Any seriously abnormal increase or decrease in K+ can profoundly affect the nervous system and increase change of irregular heartbeats.
Calcium (Ca++) is needed to build and maintain bones. It also plays a role in nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.
Magnesium (Mg++) is an essential mineral that is involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions in the body. Mg supports heart and nerve function. Mg is essential in the formation of bones and teeth and in converting blood sugar into energy.
Chloride (Cl-) is the major anion (negatively charged ion). CI- is found in the fluid outside of the cells and in the blood. The balance of chloride ion (CI-) is closely regulated by the body. Seawater has almost the same concentration of chloride ion as human body fluids. CI- plays a role in helping the body maintain a normal balance of fluids.
Bicarbonate (HCO3-) is an ion that acts as a buffer to maintain the normal levels of acidity (pH) in blood and other fluids in the body. Bicarbonate levels are measured to monitor the acidity of the blood and body fluids. The acidity is affected by foods or medications that we ingest and the function of the kidneys and lungs.
Phosphate (HPO4-) helps control the acidity level (pH) of the blood. Phosphate also causes calcium to be deposited in bones.
How To Replace Electrolytes For Diabetics:
Electrolyte imbalance in diabetes is primarily a result of elevated blood glucose. With hyperglycemia, the body tries to rid itself of the excess blood glucose by increasing urinary output. Increased urination produces water and electrolyte loss, which then upsets the body’s balance of electrolytes. The balance is especially disturbed between sodium and potassium. Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include headache, fatigue, muscle pain and irritability, according to the Mayo Clinic. As cells become more starved of glucose for their energy needs, the body tries to compensate by providing another energy source. That source comes from fatty acids, which are less efficient energy producing chemicals. Fatty acid metabolism can lead to a buildup of a byproduct called ketones, which can upset the acid and base relationship of the body. That acid/base upset may result in a condition known as ketoacidosis, which can be severe and even life threatening.
Most people receive the electrolytes they need through food alone. However if you are in a hot climate and sweating due to temperature or if you are exercising then you run a higher risk factor for becoming dehydrated. Electrolytes may then need to be replaced.
Over the years sports drinks have lured many people in because they promise to provide electrolytes. In reality, some sports drinks do provide electrolytes, but most don’t provide nearly the amount needed. Plus they are usually loaded with sugar as well as artificial sweeteners and dyes (aka sucralose and aspartame) so make sure you read the back of the label.
There are foods high in electrolytes and they are actually the best sources. Outside of food, there are a couple of fantastic supplements that also work great. Water, although it hydrates, does not contain electrolytes (unless you were to add a pinch of salt or sugar). The best way to get electrolytes into your diet is to eat fruits and vegetables (especially potatoes, beans, citrus fruits, and bananas.)
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