Electrolyte Series: Introduction

Hell my zebras and spoonies! Thank you for hanging out with me today and I’m glad that you’re here.

When you have chronic illness, it isn’t uncommon to have problems with electrolyte imbalances. Because of that, I’ve decided to do a series that talks about what they are, how the body uses them and things that we can do to manage our electrolytes. For the next seven weeks, I will make a post on Wednesday about one of the electrolytes.

Electrolytes are chemicals that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. Everyone needs electrolytes to survive. Many automatic processes in the body rely on a small electric current to function, and electrolytes provide this charge. Electrolytes interact with each other and the cells in the tissues, nerves, and muscles. A balance of different electrolytes is crucial for the body to function. They regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate the body, balance blood acidity and pressure, and help rebuild damaged tissue.

The electrolytes in human bodies include: sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride and phosphate. Some of these electrolytes get more attention than others because they are more likely to be imbalanced. However, I plan to talk about each of them during the course of this series.

The levels of electrolytes in the blood can become too high or too low, leading to an imbalance. There are a lot of things that can cause electrolyte imbalance and many of them are common in the world of chronic illnesses. Having a poor diet is the most common reason for electrolyte deficiencies, but this can also happen when the gut is impaired and unable to properly absorb nutrients. Prolonged periods of vomiting or diarrhea is another common cause. Medications such as steroids, diuretics, laxatives and others can cause electrolyte imbalances.

Generally speaking, it is unlikely that you will get too much of an electrolyte (except sodium) from your diet. If you are taking supplements, it becomes much more likely that this will happen. Thus, it is important that you make sure your doctor is on board with your electrolyte management plan. Monitoring of your electrolytes with regular lab work is key to knowing how your plan is effecting your body. If your body is in an active imbalance, then lab work should be done regularly. This can be as often as daily if the imbalance is severe, but would also likely require the person to be in the hospital. However, once your electrolytes stabilize and you find a plan that’s working for you the lab work can be less frequent.

Prevention is way better then a cure. Thus, making sure that you’re eating a well rounded diet and getting enough electrolytes is really important. It is worth knowing how much of each electrolyte is in a type of food or drink. The Department of Agriculture Trusted Source has a searchable database of nutritional contents that you can use to look up different foods and drinks.

Recommended intakes of some of the most common electrolytes are as follows:

ElectrolyteRecommended intake, in milligrams (mg)Recommended intake for people over 50, in mgRecommended intake for people over 70, in mg
Sodium1,5001,3001,200
Potassium4,700
Calcium1,0001,200
Magnesium320 for men, 420 for women
Chloride2,3002,0001,800

Also, having a moderate amount of a sports drink during or after any kind of exertion or exercise can help limit the effects of losing electrolytes through sweat. The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved a solution for oral rehydration therapy that contains:

  • 2.6 grams (g) of sodium chloride
  • 1.5 g of potassium chloride
  • 2.9 g of sodium citrate
  • 13.5 g of glucose

These are dissolved in 1 liter of water that the person drinks.

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