Electrolytes are salts and minerals that are essential for normal physiological function through their ability to conduct electricity once dissolved into the body’s fluids. Once absorbed, electrolytes produce ions, containing either a positive or negative electrical charge.
Alongside regulating your body’s pH levels, electrolytes are vital for conducting and regulating the body’s nervous impulses such as muscle contractions – most vitally, the muscles that keep your heart beating.
Electrolytes are one of the most crucial elements for maintaining homeostasis – the optimal functioning conditions for the human body, from normal cell function to oxygen delivery, electrolytes power the internal balance that keeps our nervous system and muscles functioning.
Most people are aware of electrolytes through the numerous sports drinks that advertise their ability to replenish electrolytes lost during exercise, but exertion is not the only path to an electrolyte imbalance.
Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium and their importance to our physiology
- Sodium – The most abundant electrolyte in the human body. It’s movement into and out of cells is vital for the electrical systems in the brain, nervous system and muscles to function normally. A sodium imbalance can cause internal communication to break down, cells to malfunction and in extreme imbalance, death.
- Magnesium – Vital to bone and teeth health, magnesium also plays a significant role in metabolism control, nerve and muscle function. Magnesium deficiency can cause seizures, arrhythmias and tremors.
- Potassium – Mainly found inside the cells of the body, potassium is vital for normal cell function, regulation of the heartbeat and healthy nerve and muscle function. Potassium is also important for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Potassium imbalance is often asymptomatic until at a severe level.
These three most significant electrolytes in the body are also the most commonly out of balance. The typical western diet provides an over-abundance of sodium and a deficit in magnesium and potassium. A 2020 study from the University of Applied Sciences in Austria observed that in 463 participants, only 13% reached the recommended values for the three main electrolytes. Every participant had elevated sodium and 75% low potassium.
The study went on to note the correlation between electrolyte imbalance and the development of chronic disease.
Causes of electrolyte imbalance
Probably the most common cause of an electrolyte imbalance is through fluid loss from intense physical activity.
As the human body sweats, we lose electrolytes – particularly potassium and sodium. The loss of fluids puts further strain on electrolyte balance and can lead to hypernatremia, a combination of low total body sodium and dehydration.
Any condition that exasperates dehydration such as diarrhoea or vomiting can also lead to an imbalance.
There are also several drugs, both prescribed and illicit, that cause electrolyte imbalance. Chemotherapy drugs, corticosteroids, diuretics, beta-blockers and laxatives all inhibit the body’s ability to maintain electrolyte balance. MDMA users’ frequent overconsumption of water often leads to the rapid onset of hyponatremia, a low sodium concentration in the blood that can bring on seizures and brain herniation.
However, diet plays a critical role in maintaining electrolyte balance. Eating disorders, alcoholism and overconsumption of processed foods have all been proven to result in electrolyte imbalance.
Those following a Low Carb, High Fat diet need to pay particular care in replenishing lost electrolytes.
Electrolytes and a Keto diet
One of the most common side effects of switching to any low-carb diet is a dramatic drop in the dietary intake of electrolytes.
What is commonly referred to as ‘Keto Flu’ is actually the body’s response to an electrolyte imbalance.
Dizziness, tremors, weakness, sluggishness, cramping, palpitations, difficulty in concentrating and headaches are just some of the unpleasant symptoms people usually experience when switching to a ketogenic diet.
There are two main physiological reasons for this.
Firstly, when carbohydrate intake is dramatically reduced, blood insulin levels decrease. This triggers the kidneys to release excess sodium from the body through urine. Sensing a biochemical imbalance, the kidneys are then triggered to release more potassium to regain balance.
Secondly, without carbohydrates, the body is forced to use up its glycogen stores for fuel. 1 gram of glycogen is stored with 3 grams of water and when the body uses the glycogen for fuel, the water is removed from the body too. This rapid water loss contributes to the depletion of electrolytes and further reinforces the symptoms of ‘Keto Flu’
Maintaining electrolyte balance is essential for healthy physiological function. A reliable supplement that has been properly formulated for increased bioavailability exactly like Electrolyte Balance from Love Life Supplements.