Electrolytes: How do they affect your body?

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By Isabelle Huang

If you’ve ever picked up an energy or sports drink, you may have noticed that most labels carry the phrase, “contains electrolytes”. Most people have heard that electrolytes are good for their bodies, and may be compelled to consume more of these beverages, especially college students and other youth. However, not many people know exactly what they are and what purposes they serve. Have you been informed on the importance of electrolytes?

In plain terms, electrolytes are minerals found in foods and our bodies. They carry an electric charge—hence, “electro”—and help us maintain a balanced internal system on the daily. But what happens when we don’t have enough of them?

Water makes up most of our body mass, and is also the medium in which electrolytes are stored. From our day-to-day activities, cellular processes keep the water moving to different parts of our bodies, and therefore cause a change in our storage of electrolytes. When an electrolyte imbalance occurs, it can cause muscle cramping, sluggish behavior, and even nausea. You may have noticed that after a heavy workout, it becomes harder to breathe, your throat feels dry, and your muscles ache. These symptoms occur due to a loss of water from the body as sweat, and with it, electrolytes.

Electrolytes help to balance our bodies’ fluid activity, brain function, and muscle contraction. Some common electrolytes include: potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Depending on how much of a certain kind is lost, we experience differing degrees of symptoms associated with their function. For example, sweating decreases the amount of sodium we have, which then causes muscle tightness and dizziness. To counter this, physically active individuals or people more prone to sweating should take extra measures to stay hydrated. This includes drinking beverages higher in electrolyte content.

Gatorade, Powerade, Propel, and Vitamin Water are examples of drink companies that market their beverages as “containing electrolytes”. While this claim is true (despite the ambiguity about which electrolytes they contain), you don’t need to be a fan of these drinks to keep your electrolyte stores up, or keep hydrated–a bottle of water will do just fine.

The amount of electrolytes found in bottled water depends on where the water originally came from. However, regardless of the source, regular water in itself contains many electrolytes such as: calcium, fluoride, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. In addition, water doesn’t contain any added sugars or flavorings, which means it will keep you hydrated for longer compared to other beverages.

Electrolytes can also be found in many foods, such as potassium from bananas and calcium from dairy products. Nourish your body with a variety of foods to help maintain a balance of different electrolytes in your body.

In order to maintain proper electrolyte balance in our bodies, try to keep yourself hydrated with enough fluids to keep your mind and body on top of its game! If symptoms persist, it could be due to causes other than electrolyte imbalance and further consultation with a medical professional is recommended.

Sources of information:

https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/715/electrolytes-understanding-replacement-options/

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002350.htm

https://mydoctor.kaiserpermanente.org/ncal/mdo/presentation/conditions/condition_viewall_page.jsp?condition=Condition_Electrolyte_Disturbances_-_Nephrology.xml

https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/WaterUNM.html

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/2/564s.full

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