What Are Electrolytes?
An electrolyte is nothing but essential minerals in your body that are necessary for nerve and muscle function, body-fluid balance, and other critical processes. They carry an electrical charge and are present in your blood, plasma, urine, and other fluids.
Electrolytes exist in the form of calcium, magnesium, phosphate, potassium chloride, and sodium which can be obtained from fluids, supplements, and foods. For example, bananas are excellent sources of potassium.
With reference to nutrition, the term refers to essential minerals found in your blood, sweat, and urine. When these minerals solvate in a fluid, they form electrolytes — positive or negative ions used in metabolic processes. Electrolytes found in your body include:
These electrolytes are needed for multiple bodily processes, including proper nerve and muscle function, maintaining acid-base balance, and keeping you hydrated.
Key terms to know:
- Hyper-: A condition that starts with “hyper” means it involves too much of something.
- Hypo-: A condition that starts with “hypo” means it involves too little of something.
- Ion: An atom that has an electrical charge.
- Cations: Ions with a positive charge.
- Anions: Ions with a negative charge.
- pH: A scale that measures whether a liquid is an acid or base. Your body’s natural blood pH is between 7.36 and 7.44.
- Acidic: Has a pH of less than 7.
- Neutral: Has a pH of 7.
- Basic: Has a pH of more than 7 (basic is also known as “alkaline”).
Function Of Electrolytes
1. Electrolytes are crucial for keeping your nervous system and muscles functioning and your internal environment balanced. The brain sends electrical signals through nerve cells to communicate with the cells throughout the body.
2. Muscle contraction requires electrolyte calcium. It permits muscle fibers to slide together and move over each other as the muscle shortens and contracts. Magnesium is also needed in this procedure so that the muscle fibers can slide outward and the muscles can relax after contraction.
3. Water in the right amounts both inside and outside each cell in the body is important. Electrolytes help to maintain fluid balance through osmosis. This halts cells from bursting from being too full or shriveling up due to dehydration.
4. Your body needs to regulate its internal pH to stay healthy. pH is a measure of how alkaline or acidic a solution is. For example, to stay at a pH of around 7.35 to 7.45 your blood regulates. If it deviates from the normal range, your body can’t function properly, and you become unwell. Having a fair balance of electrolytes is fundamental to maintaining your blood pH level.
Electrolyte imbalances can be caused by a deficiency or an overabundance of minerals in the body. For example, hypercalcemia and hyperkalemia are indicative of excess amounts of potassium and calcium, respectively, which can disrupt the overall balance and functioning of the nerves, cardiovascular system, and muscles.
It’s normal for electrolyte levels to fluctuate. Sometimes, though, your electrolyte levels can become imbalanced. This can lead to creating too many or not enough minerals or electrolytes in the body. Numerous things can cause an electrolyte imbalance, including:
- fluid loss from heavy exercise or physical activity
- vomiting and diarrhea
- medications such as diuretics, antibiotics, and chemotherapy drugs
- alcoholism and cirrhosis
- heart failure
- kidney disease
- eating disorders
- severe burns
- some forms of cancer
What Are The Normal Ranges For Electrolyte Levels?
In blood, the normal amounts of electrolytes are as follows:
|Electrolyte||Milliequivalents per liter
|Milligrams per deciliter
Millimoles per liter
|Sodium||136 – 144 mEq/L||–||
136 – 144 mmol/L
· Serum (plasma)
· Whole blood
3.7 – 5.1 mEq/L
3.5 – 5 mEq/L
3.7 – 5.1 mmol/L
3.5 – 5 mmol/L
|Chloride||97 – 105 mEq/L||–||97 – 105 mmol/L|
|Bicarbonate||22 – 30 mEq/L||–||22 – 30 mmol/L|
2.16 – 2.60 mEq/L
8.5 – 10.2 mg/dL
2.12 – 2.54 mmol/L
1.08 – 1.30 mmol/L
· Serum (plasma)
· Red blood cells
· Blood gas test
1.4 – 1.9 mEq/L
3.3 – 5.34 mEq/L
0.86 – 1.32 mEq/L
1.7 – 2.3 mg/dL
4.0 – 6.5 mg/dl
1.04 – 1.6 mg/dL
0.7 – 0.95 mmol/L
1.65 – 2.67 mmol/L
0.43 – 0.66 mmol/L
|Phosphate||0.87 – 1.55 mEq/L||2.7 – 4.8 mg/dL||
0.87 – 1.55 mmol/L
Symptoms Of Electrolyte Imbalance
These vary depending on which electrolytes are most affected. Common symptoms include:
- fluid retention
- irregular heartbeat
- bone disorders
- changes in blood pressure
Causes Of Electrolyte Imbalance
There are various reasons for an electrolyte imbalance, including:
- kidney disease
- not replenishing electrolytes or staying hydrated after exercise
- prolonged periods of vomiting or diarrhea
- poor diet
- severe dehydration
- an imbalance of the acid-base, or the proportion of acids and alkalis in the body
- congestive heart failure
- cancer treatment
- some drugs, such as diuretics
- age, as the kidneys of older adults, become less efficient over time
Preventing Electrolyte Imbalance
- If your urine is clear to pale yellow-brown color before a race or workout, you’re well hydrated.
- You should drink a sports drink containing electrolytes.
- Drinking water with a fitness drink decreases the beverage’s benefits.
- Drink when you’re thirsty. Don’t feel you must constantly replenish fluids.
- Although the needs of each person vary, a general rule of thumb is to limit fluids to 4–6 ounces.
- Seek immediate medical advice if you lose more than 2 percent of your body weight or there is a weight gain.