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Minerals in the summer: electrolytes

When summer comes, we all want to spend as much time outside as possible. Sunbathing, eating fresh harvest from grandma’s garden – it seems that we have everything to feel happy and full of energy. Nonetheless, heat can leave us feeling exhausted and one of the reasons for that – lack of fluids and increased perspiration resulting in electrolyte imbalance. Is it your first-time hearing about electrolytes? Let’s find out!


What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes is a term for substances that have a charge and conduct electricity when dissolved in a polar solvent, such as water. In nutrition, electrolytes are minerals essential for our body. Electrolytes are present in the blood, tissues, urine, and other bodily fluids (Timerga et al., 2020). The main electrolytes we have are:
      • Sodium (Na+)
      • Calcium (Ca2+)
      • Potassium (K+)
      • Chloride (Cl-)
      • Magnesium (Mg2+)
      • Phosphate (HPO42-)
      • Bicarbonate (HCO3-).

Why do we need electrolytes?

Because we have several electrolytes, their range of functions is quite broad. In short, electrolytes are involved in our muscle and nervous system function. Electrolytes maintain charge across nerve and muscle cells, which further carry electrical impulses to other cells. For instance, we need calcium for muscle contraction, while magnesium is necessary for the relaxation of the muscle; without these minerals muscles could not do their job properly (Millie, n.d.).

Electrolytes also regulate fluid balance in the body through osmosis. Osmosis is a process in which fluid 9in this case water) moves through a selectively permeable membrane from a low concentration (a lot of water, little electrolytes) towards a higher concentration of solute (little water, a lot of electrolytes (Lopez and Hall, 2020). Sodium and chloride are two of the major electrolytes in the blood; the body maintains the fluid balance in different tissues by adjusting these electrolytes movement into and out of the cells.

Electrolytes also maintain the constant pH of the blood. Our body must keep the acid-base balance which is measure in the pH scale. Blood pH is slightly basic, with a normal pH range of 7.35 to 7.45. Acid-base balance is regulated through lungs, kidneys, and buffer systems, which is a combination of the body’s own naturally occurring acids and bases, including phosphate and bicarbonate (Lewis III, 2020). Even the slightest shift from the normal range can be harmful to many organs, thus, the body uses different systems to keep blood’s pH under normal conditions.

Electrolyte imbalance

The quantity of electrolytes in the blood varies, it fluctuates depending on many factors. Although we lose electrolytes through the daily physiological process, for instance, muscle contraction, excretion, sweat, the imbalance can be caused by (Shrimanker I and Bhattarai S, 2019):

      • excessive heat.
      • dehydration.
      • excessive sweating – particularly relevant to athletes as we lose potassium, sodium, chloride with sweat (Baker et al., 2019).
      • unbalanced diet.
      • fluid loss from vomiting or diarrhoea.
      • heart, kidney diseases and medications.

In the case of a serious electrolyte imbalance, various symptoms can occur, depending on which electrolyte is out of balance. In general, you may feel week and tired, have muscle cramps and twitching, become confused, have an irregular heartbeat (MSD, 2021).

How to maintain electrolyte balance?

A balanced diet with plenty of fluids should suffice electrolytes needs in our body. We should eat a lot of fruits and vegetables as these are sources of minerals. Don’t forget to drink water every day – a glass of water on the desk will remind you to drink it!

After vigorous exercise, vomiting or diarrhoea lost fluid and electrolyte levels can be restored with special electrolyte drinks which are designed to replenish electrolytes quickly. You can also choose electrolyte-rich beverages, such as milk, coconut water, fruit juice.


Bottom line

Electrolytes are important minerals for various bodily functions, their imbalance can cause serious problems. After heavy exercise, fluid loss due to disease or on a hot summer day, it is necessary to maintain adequate levels of fluids and minerals inside us. After all, when the summer gifts us with such abundance, it should be easy to eat a variety of foods, isn’t it?
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