Generally speaking, electrolytes are tiny substances that change into ions when they are in solutions. They can be either positively or negatively charged, and therefore, they are capable of conducting electricity.
Electrolytes are an essential part of the fabric of the human body. A healthy balance of electrolytes is imperative for the body to work properly, as they assist with normal cell and organ function.
Based on medical research, the most common types of electrolytes found in the body include potassium, sodium, chloride, and bicarbonate. Each of these common electrolytes serves an important function.
Potassium, also known as K+, is an important positive ion, which is found in body cells. Without a healthy level of potassium in the body, the cells cannot function adequately. When potassium is at a normal level, it aids the body in proper muscle functioning as well as regulating the heartbeat. Therefore, when potassium is either at an abnormally high or low level, serious consequences can occur. For example, if there is a spike or dip in potassium levels, the heartbeat can become irregular, which can be a serious problem if not monitored. A dip or decrease in potassium is called hypokalemia. Hypokalemia can be brought on by vomiting, excessive sweating, diarrhea, some medications, eating disorders, kidney disease, and myriad other issues. On the other hand, a spike or increase in potassium levels is called hyperkalemia. Because potassium usually comes from the kidneys, hyperkalemia can be brought on by kidney disorders. Some medications may also contribute to hyperkalemia.
While potassium can be found inside the cells, sodium is just the opposite. Sodium, also known as Na+, which is found in the fluid outside the cells, is another important positive ion. When sodium is mixed with chloride, it creates table salt. Sodium is such an important substance because it helps maintain the amount of water in the body. It also performs other important bodily functions. For example, the body uses sodium to create electrical signals. Consequently, this allows the nervous system, muscles, and other important organs to communicate effectively with the brain. When there is a spike or dip in sodium levels, cells may not perform normally. As a result, serious issues, even fatality, can occur. A dip or decrease in sodium levels is known as hyponatremia. There are many factors that can contribute to hyponatremia, some of which include kidney or liver disease and congestive heart failure. Burn victims can also experience hyponatremia. On the other hand, a spike or increase in sodium levels is known as hypernatremia. Hypernatremia can be caused by kidney disease, diarrhoea, excessive vomiting, or dehydration.
Unlike potassium and sodium, chloride (Cl-) is a negatively charged ion, otherwise known as an anion. Chloride is found both in the blood and in fluid outside the cells. As mentioned before, when chloride combines with sodium, it produces table salt (NaCl). Chloride is an essential bodily substance, and it helps the body regulate fluids. Just like the other bodily substances, a lack or excess of chloride can result in serious health problems. A dip or decrease in chloride is known as hypochloremia. Because chloride is usually excreted through normal bodily functions, hypochloremia can be caused by vomiting and excessive sweating as well as diseases of the kidney and adrenal gland. A spike or increase in chloride is known as hyperchloremia. Hyperchloremia can be caused by overactive parathyroid glands as well as diseases of the kidney.
Bicarbonate (chemically known as the ion HCO3 – concentrated carbon dioxide) is equally as important as the aforementioned ions. Its main function is to ensure that the acid levels in the body are at a normal level. Therefore, one would look for the amount of bicarbonate in the bloodstream and other fluids to determine levels of acidity. Certain foods and medications can contribute to the body’s acidity levels in addition to the kidney and lungs. An abnormal amount of bicarbonate can be caused by diseases of the kidney, diseases that affect the lungs and respiratory system, metabolic conditions, and myriad other problems.
Balance and Equilibrium
While an imbalance in electrolytes can cause harm to the body, a well-balanced diet and fluid intake greatly minimizes the risk of chemical imbalance. Being cognizant of the appropriate levels of these four substances is essential to a healthy lifestyle. For the most part, the average person consumes a normal and sometimes higher amount of sodium and chloride than he or she should. When it comes to getting enough potassium, everyone should make sure to eat a generous portion of fruits and vegetables, many of which contain high amounts of potassium. In addition, make sure to look for other important substances such as magnesium, calcium, and phosphate. Adding a healthy mix of all of these substances will help maintain the body’s fluid levels and increase wellness.