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Are electrolytes good for you?

by Tina Sendin February 13, 2019

Are electrolytes good for you?

If you love your sports drinks, then you must be familiar – or at least have heard about - electrolytes.

But what are they really? And are electrolytes good for you?

 

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that maintain fluids throughout the body by traveling in and out of the cell. 

According to Medical News Today: [1]

“An electrolyte is a substance that conducts electricity when dissolved in water. They are essential for a number of bodily functions.” 
 

Because the human body’s mostly made up of water, having adequate amounts of electrolytes and keeping ourselves hydrated are key.

 

What electrolytes do 

According to Healthline, electrolytes “use their electrical energy to facilitate important bodily functions.” [2]

Electrolytes keep the body properly hydrated, which make the muscles and nerves oiled enough to function efficiently. 

Electrolytes are also vital for: [3]

  • Regulating nerve impulses
  • Helping your muscles function, such as contraction and relaxation
  • Maintaining the correct pH levels or acidity of your blood
  • Rebuilding damaged tissues
  • Controlling your fluid balance
  • Regulating your blood pressure
  • Improving your exercise performance
  • Rehydrating while you’re ill

If you want to know more about the science of how they work, here’s a video explaining what goes on with electrolytes in your body:

 

What are the most important electrolytes? Electrolytes in the body

Sodium (Na)

This electrolyte’s essential for regulating your water and fluid balance. 

Sodium tells your kidneys how much volume of water your body needs to keep, as well as how much it has to get rid of. It also regulates the amount of fluid inside the cells and volume of plasma in the blood. [4]

Sodium is also very important for maintaining the right pH balance in your body and making sure your nerve and muscles function well.

It’s key to watch your salt intake; too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and an imbalance in this next electrolyte. Too little may lead to a condition called hyponatremia or low sodium levels, which includes seizures, coma, and even death.

While there’s no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for this electrolyte, the US Institute of Medicine created the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for sodium at 1.2 to 1.5 gram per day, with a ceiling of 2 grams per day. That’s equivalent to having not more than 5 grams worth of table salt. [5]

 

Potassium (K+)

Found within the cells, potassium regulates water and fluid in your body.

It’s also essential for muscle functions. It helps involuntary muscles to contract at the right pace, like your heart pumping blood in a beautiful rhythm.  

Potassium also plays a role in creating electrical impulses and nerve signaling.

This electrolyte works together with sodium in keeping the right water and acid-base (pH) balance in your body. Together with calcium, potassium controls nerve and muscle activity in your system. 

A lack of potassium can inhibit your body from storing glycogen, which is where your muscle activity gets energy from. It can also lead to hypokalaemia, which manifests in the form of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), severe muscle weakness, fatigue, constipation, muscle cramping, and palpitations. [6]

Meanwhile, excess in potassium or hyperkalemia has symptoms such as muscle fatigue, weakness, paralysis, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), and nausea. [7]

While there’s no RDA for potassium, it’s been suggested that 4700 mg per day is the right amount for adults. [5]

 

Calcium (Ca++)

This electrolyte’s not only known for bone health. It also plays a big role in rebuilding damaged tissues, bones and muscle. It’s also used for muscle contractions, nerve signaling, as well as regulating cell function and blood clotting.

Too much calcium may lead to kidney stones, while too little may result in rickets among kids and osteoporosis among adults.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for calcium is between 1000 and 1300 mg per day. [5]

To absorb calcium properly, you’ll need a sufficient amount of the next electrolyte.

 

Magnesium

Magnesium is this overachieving electrolyte that plays a role in over 300 chemical reactions in the body - including cell function, enzyme activity, muscle function, nerve signaling, sleep and regulating mood. [4]

If you’re suffering from muscle cramps, experiencing symptoms of PMS or menopause, feeling tired, or simply having “one of those days”, then you may want to up your level of magnesium.

Depending on how old you are and your gender, the RDA for magnesium varies between 310 and 420 mg per day. [5]

 

Bicarbonate (HCO3-)

This electrolyte controls the acid-base ratio in your body and helps get rid of excess acidity in your blood and digestive system.

 

Chloride (Cl-)

Chloride acts like sodium; it helps with keeping the right fluid balance in your cells by watching out for the amount of water going in and out of them. It also ensures your body has the right pH levels.

 

Phosphate (HPO4-)

Like calcium, phosphate also makes your bones and teeth stronger. It also helps rebuild and grow cells by creating more proteins in your body.

Too much of this electrolyte can get rid of calcium in your system and thus make your bones weaker.

 

Where do electrolytes come from

It’s easy to think that getting electrolytes is as easy as a run to the nearest store for a bottle of energy drink.

But it’s even easier to get your daily dose of electrolytes from the foods that you eat. In fact, they’re more common than you think!

Most fruits and vegetables

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Corn
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Limes
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Artichokes
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes

Nuts and seeds

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Walnuts
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Pistachios

Beans

  • Lima
  • Red
  • Mung
  • White
  • Pinto beans

Dark Leafy Greens

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Beet greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Bok choy
  • Chard

Dietary Supplements

Electrolytes are also present in dietary supplements which serve as electrolyte salts, sometimes mixed with other key ingredients such as caffeine and Pink Himalayan Salt for optimal hydration support.

 

Conclusion

Do you think you’re getting enough electrolytes? What are some of your favorite sources of electrolytes? Leave them in the comment section below.

If you want to know more about what electrolytes are and why we need them, check out this video:

 

 




Tina Sendin
Tina Sendin

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