The Benefits of Electrolytes
What are electrolytes?
Chemically, electrolytes are substances that become ions in solution and acquire the capacity to conduct electricity. Electrolytes are present in our bodies, and the balance of the electrolytes is essential for normal function of our cells and our organs.
Common electrolytes that are measured by doctors with blood testing include sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate.
Sodium is the major positive ion in fluid outside of the cell wall. Excess sodium (such as that obtained from dietary sources) is excreted in the urine. Sodium regulates the total amount of water in the body and the transmission of sodium into and out of individual cells also 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 the generation of these signals. Therefore, too much or too little sodium can cause cells to malfunction, and extremes in the blood sodium levels can be fatal or detrimental to optimal health and performance.
Potassium is the major positive ion (cation) found inside of cells. The proper level of potassium is essential for normal cell function. Among the many functions of potassium in the body are regulation of the heartbeat and the function of the muscles. A seriously abnormal increase in potassium or decrease in potassium can profoundly affect the nervous system and increases the chance of irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), which, when extreme, can be fatal.
Chloride is the major anion (negatively charged ion) found in the fluid outside of cells and in the blood. An anion is the negatively charged part of certain substances such as table salt (sodium chloride or NaCl) when dissolved in liquid. Chloride plays a role in helping the body maintain a normal balance of fluids. The balance of chloride ion is closely regulated by the body. Significant increases or decreases in chloride can have deleterious or even fatal consequences.
The bicarbonate ion 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.