The Essence of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are a vital part of a person’s chemical makeup, and an imbalance can affect regular function. If you feel faint after a workout, this could be why. Electrolytes are electrically-charged minerals that help regulate everything from hydration (the amount of water in your body), to your nervous system to muscle function — including the most important muscle of all: the heart.

In the human body, the main electrolytes are:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Chloride
  • Phosphate
  • Bicarbonate

Electrolytes are like the electrical circuit in the body. They are present in our blood, urine, tissues and other body fluids & are responsible for cell signalling. Thus, having electrolytes in the right concentrations (called electrolyte balance) is important for normal functioning of our cells & organs.

Our kidneys and several hormones regulate the concentration of each electrolyte. However, electrolyte imbalance happens by electrolyte loss through sweating profusely after strenuous workout in hot weather, diarrhoea, vomiting or dehydration. An oral rehydration solution (ORS) containing electrolytes and fluids can be used to replenish the body. In severe cases of electrolyte loss, an intravenous (IV) route of administration may be necessary. A severe electrolyte imbalance can cause neurological and cardiac complications and may be fatal if not recognised and treated promptly.

When you should be concerned?

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical advice immediately. It can be fatal.

  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Weakness or difficulty moving
  • Fainting
  • Seizure
  • Numbness
  • Convulsions
  • Muscle spasm

How to maintain electrolyte balance.

Follow these steps to avoid severe electrolyte spikes or dips:

​1. Eat your electrolytes.

Make these electrolyte-rich foods part of your daily diet:

Calcium – Milk and milk products ( also contain other electrolytes, such as magnesium, sodium, and phosphorous.), meat, fish with bones (e.g., sardines), eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, beans, certain fruits and vegetables (e.g., asparagus, spinach, kale, apricots and figs)
Chloride – Olives, seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce and celery
Magnesium – Leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, kale), whole grains, nuts, peanut butter, dried beans and lentils
Potassium – Cooked spinach, sweet potato, plain yogurt, bananas, avocado, sweet-potato, peas, beans, tomatoes, oranges, melons, prunes and raisins

​2. Go easy on the salt.

Although sodium is a vital electrolyte, your body doesn’t need a lot — just 1 teaspoon daily. Too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure and other health problems. Try these salt-saving tips:

Use fresh herbs and spices, or citrus juice to season your food.
Avoid pre-packaged food items, which tend to be very high in sodium.
Prefer Frozen fruits & vegetables over canned ones. Always read the labels!
Stay away from saltshaker. Don’t reach for the saltshaker

​3. Drink enough water.

You may feel like you hear this too often. But it’s good advice. Don’t wait until you become dehydrated to drink fluids; keep a water bottle with you and drink small amounts throughout the day.

4. Replenish electrolytes after exercise.

If you do a long or heavy workout, it’s important to replace the potassium, magnesium and/or sodium that can be depleted.

Even if you don’t sweat a lot, you lose electrolytes when you breathe rapidly, so it is advisable to opt for a drink with electrolytes after any vigorous workout irrespective if you are sweaty or not

5. Push the electrolytes when you’re sick.

When you’re vomiting, have diarrhea or are feverish, you rapidly lose fluids and electrolytes, Be cautious. Children and seniors, especially, can get severely dehydrated very fast.

Reach for tender coconut water, which contains potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium and is naturally low in sugar contribute to a person’s overall electrolyte levels.

Oral rehydration solution (ORS) which contain the right mix of salt, sugar, potassium and other minerals — are a good way to replenish those vital fluids.

Takeaway

Maintain a healthy electrolyte balance by eating a balanced diet, drinking enough liquids, watching your salt intake, avoiding strenuous outdoor workout during hot weather and by replenishing the lost electrolytes by consuming lemon water with salt & sugar, laban or take natural rehydrating tender coconut water.

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