Electrolytes are essential minerals that play a vital role in many of the body’s functions, from regulating fluid balance, muscle and nerve support, to optimum adrenal and cardiac function. Electrolytes can be found in small concentrations in food and water; however, the same filtration systems that remove minerals like chlorine and fluoride from our water, also remove many of the beneficial minerals our bodies need. Furthermore, electrolytes are lost through sweat and urine, and need to be replenished regularly.
If you’ve ever wondered just how important these micronutrients are, read below for the roles of minerals, and some of our favorite recommendations for electrolyte supplementation.
Regulating Fluid Balance and Supporting Muscle Function
Electrolytes are essential for regulating the body’s fluid balance. Sodium, potassium, chloride, and other electrolytes help to maintain the proper balance of fluids inside and outside of cells. Losing electrolytes through normal bodily processes, including sweating and urination, can cause an imbalance in our fluid levels. If you’ve ever spent time in a sauna without having good electrolyte repletion, you may know first-hand how dizzy and fatigued you can feel. This is likely a result of fluid imbalances from significant loss – almost similar to the losses you’d experience from an illness that results in diarrhea or vomiting. Replenishing electrolytes can help to prevent these symptoms and keep the body hydrated and functioning properly.
Electrolytes are also critical for supporting muscle function. Calcium, sodium, and potassium are required for muscle contractions and can help to prevent muscle cramps and spasms. Without enough electrolytes, muscles may become weak and fatigued, making it harder to perform physical activities or exercise. This is especially true for athletes, who benefit from the repletion of electrolytes for enhanced performance. And, while we may not think of it regularly, our heart and lungs are crucial muscles that require the right balance of electrolyte support for optimal function.
In addition to heart and lunge support, other organs require electrolytes, including the brain, kidneys, and adrenals. Electrolytes are essential for proper nerve and brain function, with sodium and potassium in particular helping to transmit nerve impulses. Electrolyte imbalances lead to confusion, headaches, and other neurological symptoms. In the kidneys and adrenals, sodium and potassium help to regulate fluid and electrolyte balance. Certain hormones produced from those organs help communicate the concentrations of minerals to the rest of the body, and can help drive our thirst cues.
How do I replete electrolytes? And how do I know if I need to?
While we’ve touched on some of these ideas already, the primary signs that you need to replenish electrolytes include:
- Muscle cramps
- Cardiac arrhythmias
Yes – even the symptom of fatigue exclusively can point to needing electrolyte support! And of course, ANY significant fluid losses like diarrhea and vomiting are a big sign that you need electrolyte repletion.
While some foods, like bananas and avocados, contain a higher concentration of electrolytes like potassium, you may benefit from added electrolytes when you’re prone to periods of illness, stress (including chronic stressors), or sweating. If you exercise and sweat daily, a daily electrolyte powder is great way to ensure better fluid balance.
Some of our tried and true favorite electrolyte brands include:
If you’re not a fan of the flavorings, a pinch of sea salt with a squeeze of lemon can also provide beneficial electrolytes. And, for those who like the taste, coconut water also contains many powerful micronutrients.
Overall, most of us would benefit from daily electrolyte repletion. And as always, we are here at STAT Wellness to help make sure you’re feeling your best, and to take a look at your symptoms and labs if you’re concerned that your fluid balance is suboptimal.