Have you ever felt disoriented after a long, tiring day? Or experienced a rude awakening in the middle of the night due to a leg cramp? Chances are — this could mean that you are lacking in fluids and by fluids, we don’t just mean water but electrolytes as well.
When we think of electrolytes, what usually comes to mind are sports drinks. Most of us perceive electrolytes as a way to recharge and cool ourselves down after vigorous exercise. However, there is much more to the role of electrolytes than just keeping us hydrated and energized.
Contrary to the above notion, electrolytes can be found in the food and drinks that we consume everyday and some examples include potassium, magnesium, sodium, chloride and calcium. As the basis of various chemical reactions in the body, electrolytes are ions that are involved in the regulation of fluid levels, muscle contraction, nerve impulses and several other functions in the body. In addition, they are also an important factor in cellular maintenance, thus making them indispensable in daily body functioning. As such, any variances in electrolyte consumption can impact our health in different ways and magnitudes.
Therefore, it’s crucial that we achieve the right balance of electrolytes in our diet for optimal well-being. For a better understanding of how the intake of electrolytes is related to our health, here are some reasons why electrolytes are more important than you think and where you can get them.
Consequences Of Electrolyte Imbalance And Dealing With Them
Despite knowing that electrolytes can be obtained from sports drinks, the majority of us are hesitant to consume them frequently. Most sports drinks have a notorious reputation of containing high sugar contents, making them a less than ideal choice for drinking on a regular basis.
However, as mentioned earlier, not getting enough or overconsuming electrolytes can result in health issues such as dizzy spells, nausea, irregular heartbeat and muscle cramps. In addition, an imbalance can have long-term health consequences as well. Thus, ensuring an appropriate intake of electrolytes is imperative. But as the amount required per individual differs, it is best to consult a qualified doctor or dietitian if you are considering electrolyte supplements. If not, the rule of thumb on electrolyte intake is to ensure that you replenish what is lost. For instance, make sure to stock up on electrolytes after a gruelling gym workout and sports. With that in mind, read on to find out why balancing your electrolyte intake is important.
Regulation Of Your Heartbeat
Our muscles and nerves receive and send signals to and from our nervous systems using electrical impulses. These impulses are conducted and regulated by electrolytes, and your heart itself is a fist-sized muscular organ and every heartbeat is triggered by an electrical impulse. When there is an imbalance of electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium in the body, these impulses can become irregular and cause heart spasms and heart arrhythmia, otherwise known as irregular heartbeats. Potassium and magnesium ions in the body facilitate the smooth transmission of electrical impulses through the body cells and the movement of the heart muscles. Therefore, should there be any variance in electrolyte intake, the overall heart rhythm may be affected. However, do note that while sodium is an electrolyte, consuming too much of it will increase your susceptibility to hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Do you often get muscle cramps out of the blue? If so, you might have an insufficient amount of electrolytes in your body as they play a crucial role in muscle functioning. As mentioned earlier, electrolytes aid in the transportation and balance of potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium within and inside cells, thus laying the groundwork for the transmission of electrical signals to the muscles. This subsequently affects the movement of the muscles and prompts them to contract and relax accordingly. As such, it is essential that the right balance of electrolyte intake is achieved for normal muscle functioning and some good sources that help in this process are bananas, pumpkin seeds and yoghurt.
Improves Your Sleep Quality
If you are not getting enough electrolytes in your diet, chances are that you will experience greater difficulty sleeping. This is because electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium facilitate the process of uninterrupted, restful sleep. A deficiency in magnesium will increase the likelihood of waking up more often throughout the night, thus making you even more tired. In addition, as magnesium is involved in the ‘fight-or-flight’ response that is correlated with stress, not getting enough of it can elevate your anxiety levels and make you unable to sleep. Subsequently, this lack of sleep then ups your chances of developing unsightly dark eye circles and increases the risk of other chronic conditions. Not to mention, an imbalance in potassium levels can also increase the possibility of muscle cramps and spasms, thus affecting overall sleep quality. To minimise the probability of such health issues from occurring, eat more spinach, avocados or chickpeas which are rich in magnesium and potassium.
Regulates Fluid Levels
Electrolytes aid in the maintenance of cells by regulating the fluid levels in the body through osmosis. Sodium and chloride aid in ensuring the appropriate amount of fluids is retained within and between body cells. Hence, if there is an imbalance in either electrolyte level, you are more likely to get headaches and feel fatigued. Some good sources of sodium and chloride are sea salt and olives.
Transmission Of Nerve Impulses
In order for your different body parts and organs to function properly, there has to be a frequent exchange of signals between your brain and organs. This usually takes the form of nerve impulses that travel along your nerves to the specific body part, which is related to the movement of electrolytes like sodium and potassium in and out of cells.