Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stressed and depressed, or dehydrated? Part 2 - Electrolytes

Just what is an electrolyte? The dictionary says:

1 - A chemical compound that ionizes when dissolved or molten to produce an electrically conductive medium.

2 – Physiology; Any of various ions, such as sodium, potassium, or chloride, required by cells to regulate the electric charge and flow of water molecules across the cell membrane.

You may already be aware that the water:salt ratio of your body fluids is quite similar to sea-water. They contain varying levels of salts (electrolytes) that, when dissolved, become ions which carry electrical charges to the rest of your body. These salts/electrolytes are what your brain, heart, nerve, and muscle cells use to maintain voltages and carry electrical impulses such as nerve impulses and muscular contractions to other cells. This is your body’s communication system, and it is imperative to keep it in excellent operating condition.

Want to raise your hand? You need electrolytes. Want to walk down to the mailbox? You need electrolytes. Want to talk to your sister in Toledo? You need electrolytes! If you don’t have the electrolytes to carry the messages for action from your brain to the rest of your body, your body may get a garbled message, or no message at all!

Your kidneys are responsible for maintaining the proper balance of these salts throughout your body. If your kidneys malfunction, or are deprived of fluids which make them unable to maintain the correct balance of salts your heart and muscles may suffer because they will not receive the proper electrical signals for correct function.

You lose a certain amount of these salts on a daily basis through normal body functions. You lose larger amounts through sweat when you exercise heavily. If you contract an illness that causes a high fever, vomiting or diarrhea, you lose even larger volumes of electrolytes. These salts must be replaced to maintain the health of your body fluids and organs.

Sodium and potassium are the major body electrolytes, but also included in this group are chloride, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, phosphate, and sulfate.

If your body is low in sodium, you may experience headache, muscle cramps, weakness, disorientation, apathy and lethargy…..all of which are also symptoms of stress.

Low potassium levels may affect the nervous system, and even increase the chances of irregular heartbeat.

An imbalance in chloride may precipitate an imbalance in other body fluids since part of its function is to keep other body fluids in balance.

Magnesium deficiencies have become a hot topic recently, and supplements are supposed to relieve everything from high cholesterol to menopause to muscular pain. This is possible….no one really understands all the interrelations of the body’s chemistry which is why it is so important to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

The big question, then, is: How can you maintain correct and balanced levels of electrolytes? Drink Water! Providing that it is clean and free from additives and pollutants, regular tap water is perfect, and has all the nutrients you need.

Unless you are a professional athlete, there is no need to consume fancy, expensive drinks that claim to provide you with the right balance of electrolytes. (One study proposed the sports drinks were beneficial for athletes because they have added carbohydrates. The average person does not require additional carbohydrates, just the nutrients found in water.) While the professional athletes may find these sports drinks beneficial, most of us should avoid the additives often found in these drinks.

Many people believe that when illness has caused dehydration, the sports drinks are just the thing to replace the water and minerals they have lost. This is not true. Water will do the job faster and better, and does not have the added sugars (and sometimes flavorings) which are especially contraindicated for anyone recovering from an illness.

Don't forget to check out this excellent book: Water: For Health, for Healing, for Life: You're Not Sick, You're Thirsty! Click here to read my review of it!


Geraldine said...

Thanks for yet another reason to drink plenty of clean, pure water (or as near as we can get to that, these days).

Michelle said...

Yes....sadly, getting clean water can be a challenge these days. I'm holding out though...haven't given up tap water for bottled water yet. We have pretty clear water here, and receive yearly reports on water quality, which is nice.