Electrolytes and the Human Body

Electrolyte levels are not something a lot of us pay attention to. In fact, not many of us even know what electrolytes are.

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How an Electrolyte Imbalance Occurs
Symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance
How to Prevent/Treat Electrolyte Imbalance

Simply put, electrolytes are minerals commonly found in the body, like potassium, magnesium and sodium. They are also found in many of the foods we eat and the fluids we drink.

They’re easy to gain, but they are also easy to lose. What’s worse is that you can develop an electrolyte imbalance, leading to a range of problems.

Electrolytes serve key functions in the human body, such as aiding in nerve and muscle function. The more electrolytes we have and the better they’re balanced, the healthier we are.

We all lose a good bit of electrolytes during warmer months through sweat, and everyone working out is sure to lose a lot of electrolytes. And there are many other ways in which an imbalance can occur.

How an Electrolyte Imbalance Occurs

Certain foods you eat can attribute to an electrolyte imbalance, but it’s rare that your diet alone would be the culprit for such a disorder. However, it is not impossible, and diets consisting of little nutritional value, such as diets high in junk/processed foods, can limit your intake of essential minerals and attribute to an overall imbalance in your system.

Exercise is another factor that, while causing you to lose a lot of electrolytes, will not usually be the primary culprit in an imbalance. However, like with the dieting choices, it is not impossible, especially—“only” may be a more correct way to look at it—if you’re not replenishing electrolytes in their proper amount after exercising.

Some of the more common causes of an electrolyte imbalance include:

  • Bad burns
  • Starvation acidosis
  • Renal tubular acidosis
  • Alcoholic ketoacidosis
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • Pancreatic fistula
  • COPD
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Trauma

Symptoms of an Electrolyte Imbalance

There are many different symptoms that can come from this form of imbalance.

Here are some examples of the most common:

  • Extreme fatigue: feeling tired all day, even after receiving ample sleep and even after eating meals; a weak feeling as if you can’t make it through ordinary tasks.
  • Bloating: a feeling of weight gain around the belly area, sometimes visibly noticeable.
  • Dizziness/headaches: sudden and recurring headaches, moderate to severe, seeming to persist even after medication; sudden and recurring lightheadedness upon standing or sometimes out of the blue while seated.
  • Focusing problems: trouble focusing on any single task; confusion created and the proverbial “lost” feeling.
  • Memory problems: short-term memory gaps – i.e. going to the kitchen and then forgetting what you’re there for.
  • Irritability: a feeling of bubbling anger; not being able to handle minor annoyances or even everyday occurrences without becoming tetchy.
  • Constipation/indigestion: chronic bouts of either or both constipation and indigestion.
  • Muscle twitching: excessive muscle twitches even while at complete rest.
  • High blood pressure/heartbeat irregularities

How to Prevent/Treat Electrolyte Imbalance

Dietary Changes

Depending on the type of diet you are already on, fresh fruits might be prohibited. But if you’re suffering an electrolyte imbalance, it’s essential that you eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies – just live with the carbs in this case.

All fruits, especially water-laded fruits like watermelon and pineapple, carry a lot of electrolytes. Eating fresh fruits and veggies will help to replenish these minerals and keep them balanced in your body.

Post Exercise

Some people like to chug their water right after working out. This can be a bad idea. Right after a workout, your body is still running high and causing you to lose electrolytes. More water drank means more sweat when you’re hot, so be sure to cool down before drinking water.

Supplemental Treatment

Even though you will find plenty of electrolytes in many fruits and veggies, not to mention the wide array of sports drinks out there, some minerals are always harder to replace than others. Nutritional supplements providing magnesium may be a great way to replenish electrolytes and to keep them balanced.

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