You might think that “electrolyte” is just a wellness buzzword, but you should know that it’s a crucial nutritional term. Without the proper amount of electrolytes, you’ll inevitably feel the effects – and your body won’t have what it needs to perform critical functions. In this article, you will learn what happens when your body is low on electrolytes and how to ensure you’re properly hydrated.
What are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are a category of essential minerals that require a wide range of bodily processes, including muscle and nerve function, hydration, and internal pH balance.
When dissolved, electrolytes are positively charged (cations) or negatively charged (anions). Metabolic processes use cations (positive) and anions (negative) to perform their functions.
Your urine, sweat, and blood naturally contain electrolytes.
What Do Electrolytes Do?
So, precisely what do electrolytes do? Different types of electrolytes play varying roles in your body. For example:
- Sodium supports proper nerve impulses (signals between your brain and nerve cells)
- Calcium is essential for the function of muscles, including keeping your heart beating.
- Sodium and other electrolytes help maintain hydration
- Enzymes use magnesium for their chemical reactions
- Potassium works with calcium to regulate nerve and muscle activity
- Phosphate stores energy, enables nerve function, and helps repair teeth and bones
What Can Cause an Electrolyte Imbalance?
Understanding what causes electrolyte imbalance is crucial because it's a situation you want to avoid. Many causes of electrolyte imbalance present a more severe risk to specific individuals (such as the elderly or those with chronic illness).
Electrolyte imbalance causes can include:
- Not eating or drinking enough
- Losing excessive fluids due to fever, sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Chronic respiratory problems
- Respective medications, including laxatives, diuretics, steroids, and certain antibiotics and seizure medications
- Blood pH levels that are higher than average (known as "metabolic alkalosis")
One of the simplest ways to prevent electrolyte imbalance is to ensure you are staying hydrated and eating electrolyte-rich foods, such as bananas, strawberries, spinach, beans, avocados, oranges, and soybeans. A high-quality electrolyte supplement can also be a staple in a health-focused lifestyle.
What is the Most Common Electrolyte Imbalance?
There are various types of electrolyte imbalance, each potentially escalating into a serious medical problem. Electrolyte imbalance includes levels that are either too high or too low.
The most common type of electrolyte imbalance is called "hyponatremia" or low sodium levels.
There are various causes of hyponatremia, including hormonal changes, excess water intake, kidney disease, and underlying medical issues.
Hyponatremia symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps, spasms, or weakness
- Drowsiness/loss of energy
Drinking too much water isn’t something that most people realize they can do. Even if you attempt to stay hydrated, too much water can reduce your sodium levels.
Instead, an electrolyte-rich supplement can help you stay hydrated while maintaining proper electrolyte levels.
Low chloride levels, or hypochloremia, can be triggered by excessive vomiting or the suctioning of stomach contents. It is also commonly caused by "loop" diuretics, which treat fluid retention caused by high blood pressure or kidney/heart problems.
Conversely, high chloride levels can be related to kidney disease or diarrhea.
Potassium levels that are too low or too high don't necessarily cause symptoms, so they can be challenging to detect. Low potassium, or hypokalemia, can alter how your body stores glycogen, a source of energy for your muscles.
It can also affect the rhythm of your heart.
Severely low potassium levels are associated with muscle weakness, cramps, paralysis, and respiratory problems and can escalate into long-term kidney problems.
High potassium, or hyperkalemia, may result in abnormal heart rhythms or muscle weakness (or no symptoms at all). Unfortunately, too-high potassium levels can eventually stop the heart.
Low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) can become a chronic problem, resulting in yeast infections, cataracts, and changes in your hair, skin, and nails. You may experience muscle spasms, decreased reflexes, or seizures as the levels drop.
High calcium, known as hypercalcemia, may not initially cause symptoms. However, as levels increase, many people suffer from appetite loss, constipation, nausea/vomiting, abdominal pain, and other symptoms.
Extremely high levels are linked with significant mood swings, confusion, and delirium and can eventually cause shock, heart attack, kidney failure, and even death.
The effects of low magnesium (hypomagnesemia) are similar to those of low calcium or potassium. Deficient levels of magnesium can be life-threatening.
High magnesium, or hypermagnesemia, can result in breathing problems, low blood pressure, and cardiac arrest.
Poor nutrition, medications, alcoholism, severe burns, and diabetic ketoacidosis can cause low phosphate levels (hypophosphatemia). Effects can include muscle weakness, seizures, coma, heart failure, or respiratory failure.
High levels of phosphate (hyperphosphatemia) do not always cause symptoms. Its causes include infection, chronic kidney disease, acidosis, parathyroid gland disorder, and other medical conditions.
How Do I Know if I Need to Replenish My Electrolytes?
What exactly happens when your body is low on electrolytes? There are many signs of low electrolytes; some effects could prove fatal. If you have been experiencing a prolonged period of vomiting or diarrhea or have been sweating profusely for any reason, you prepare to replenish your body’s electrolytes.
Additionally, if you have a chronic respiratory condition, metabolic alkalosis, or are taking a particular medication that can cause electrolyte imbalance, you should be highly conscious of your electrolyte intake.
The symptoms of low electrolytes include:
- Accelerated or irregular heart rate
- Muscle cramps
- Abdominal cramps
- Numbness or tingling
- Diarrhea or constipation
Electrolyte imbalance can quickly become a severe problem. But here's the good news: for most healthy individuals, staying hydrated and consuming electrolyte-rich foods and supplements is a simple, straightforward way to prevent issues.
Replenish When Your Body is Low on Electrolytes
Whether you’re running low on electrolytes because of a challenging workout, a hot day, or any other reason, getting rehydrated and replenished is vital.
With Core Culture Electrolytes, you can deliver an all-natural boost of electrolytes, getting your body back to proper performance and energy levels. And with no added sugars, a gluten-free and vegan-friendly formulation, and four refreshing flavor options, our electrolytes supplement will become an essential part of your healthy lifestyle. Skip the pre-bottled, sugar-packed electrolyte beverages and choose a hydration supplement to help you reach your goals, not slow down.
Find your favorite flavors and try Core Culture Electrolytes today!