Many people talk about electrolytes but do you have any idea what electrolyte really is? Being among the smallest of chemicals important to a cell’s function, electrolytes are crucial to the manufacturing of energy, the maintenance of membrane stability, the movement of fluids in the body, and a few other jobs, such as contracting a muscle, like the heart.
You know that you’ll taste salt if you lick the back of your hand after jogging or cutting grass on a hot summer day. Sodium is one of sweat’s main ingredients, along with chloride and potassium. All three are carried to the surface of the skin by the water made in sweat glands and the salt stays after the liquid evaporates. The purpose of sweating is regulation of body temperature, which is achieved by the eccrine glands that cover much of the body. An adult can easily sweat two liters an hour (Godek, 2008), up to eight liters a day (Vukasinovic-Vesic, 2015). It’s the evaporation of the water that has the cooling effect. Some animals do not have efficient sweat glands, such as dogs that have to pant to cool down, or hogs that needs to wallow in mud or cool water.
After exercise — or other cause of heavy perspiration — it’s important to restore fluid balance, especially in hot weather when it is easy to get dehydrated. Rehydration occurs only if both water and electrolytes are replaced. The amount of electrolytes lost through sweat varies from person to person. Accurately matching beverage electrolyte intake with loss through sweat is practically impossible. If you are eating at the same time as drinking plain water, this may suffice for rehydration. Otherwise, inclusion of electrolytes is essential.
What Are They and What Do They Do?
In the body, the electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride, and phosphate. Not all are contained — or needed — in an electrolyte replacement beverage. Sodium, the main cation outside the cell, controls total amount of water in the body, regulates blood volume and maintains muscle and nerve function. You need at least 500 mg a day. The suggested upper level is 2300 mg, but most Americans ingest more than 3000. Chloride, also from table salt, is an anion. Found in extracellular fluids, chloride, in the company of sodium, helps to maintain proper fluid balance and pressure of the various fluid compartments.
Potassium is the major cation inside the cell, where its job is to regulate heart beat and blood pressure while balancing the other electrolytes. Because it aids in transmitting nerve impulses, potassium is necessary for muscle contractions, actually the relaxation half of the contraction. Deficiency of potassium is more common than overdose, and may arise from diarrhea or vomiting, with muscle weakness and cramping being symptoms. Intake of potassium is generally much lower than the recommended 4700 mg a day, which is not surprising in light of the deficits in food caused by insulting agricultural practices. Perhaps the most under-appreciated mineral in the nutrient armamentarium is magnesium, not only a constituent of more than three hundred biochemical reactions in the body, but also a role player in the synthesis of both DNA and RNA. As an electrolyte, magnesium supports nerve and muscle function, boosts immunity, monitors heart cadence, stabilizes blood glucose, and promotes healthy bones and teeth. With half the U.S. population deficient, Mg is the orphan nutrient that is able to prevent elevated markers of inflammation (such as CRP), hypertension (It’s called nature’s calcium channel blocker), atherosclerotic vascular disease, migraines, asthma, and colon cancer (Rosanoff, 2012). Supplementation with magnesium is uncertain because absorption is inverse to intake.
Like the others, calcium is involved in muscle contraction and the transmission of nerve messages, but also in blood clotting. Calcium tells sodium to initiate a contraction so that you can pick up a pencil or scratch your nose. In opposition, magnesium tells potassium to let the pencil go or to move your arm back down. Because the heart needs calcium for a strong beat, it will pull the mineral from bone if dietary sufficiency is missing. After calcium, phosphorus — phosphate — is the most abundant mineral in the body. This anion helps to produce energy inside the cell besides being a bone strengthener. It’s a major building block of DNA and the cell membrane. Bicarbonate keeps pH in balance and is important when muscles make lactic acid from work.
Where Can I Get the Electrolytes I Need?
There are scores of electrolyte replacements on the market and entirely too many with sugar or additives. The issue with electrolytes is, in all honesty, that they taste bitter and salty. The fact that sugar is a carbohydrate hinders the processing of a hydration drink because absorption is slowed. That’s what carbohydrates do. Sugar concentrations in many sports drinks are higher than that of body fluid, so will not be readily absorbed. Plain water passes through too fast; carb-laden drinks pass too slowly. Therefore, an electrolyte balanced drink will do the job better and faster. Sodium and potassium, after all, encourage fluid retention and help to reduce urine output.
It is common knowledge that most of us gravitate to sweetness in times of dehydration; saltiness less so. But when you need rehydration, choose the real stuff, BodyBio’s E-lyte and E-lyte Sport, two electrolyte replacements that copy the mineral balance of the body. Elyte may be used as a daily addition to the diet, and is effective to restore homeostasis in times of virus-induced gastrointestinal distress for adults and children, in electrolyte deficit from uncontrolled diabetes and even for restless leg syndrome. When sodium loss is high from exercise, chose Elyte Sport.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.