Electrolytes are all the rage.
Today you'll find electrolyte supplements everywhere, from your local gas station to hip brands like Cure Hydration, which sells organic electrolyte powders that promise to provide "your body with everything it needs for daily optimal hydration and nothing it doesn't."
But if you've been too scared to ask what electrolytes actually are, look no further... It's time we all knew the truth.
According to medineplus.gov, electrolytes are "minerals in your body that have an electric charge." But what does that even mean? How do minerals have electric charge? Does that mean they work like tiny little light bulbs that grow brighter the more electrolyte supplements you eat?
Kind of, actually, if light bulbs needed water to turn on instead of connection to an outlet.
How Electrolytes Work
Essentially, an electrolyte is a particle that carries either a positive or negative charge. Electrolytes conduct electricity when dissolved in water.
Their charge allows them to regulate nerve function, balance blood acidity, rebuild damaged tissue, keep you hydrated, help your body expand and contract, and much more. Depending on the electrolyte in question, this process works in different ways.
For example, how do electrolytes actually regulate nerve function? Well, when it's trying to communicate with cells around your body, your brain sends signals through your nerve cells. These signals occur when the electrolyte sodium moves across the nerve cell membrane, generating the membrane's electric charge, thus forming a signal that alerts the body of pain or feeling.
And how do electrolytes keep you hydrated? Well, they do this with a process called osmosis. During osmosis, water moves through a cell membrane from a dilute solution (which has more water and less electrolytes) to a concentrated solution (with less water and more electrolytes). This prevents cells from becoming too oversaturated or too dehydrated.
Overall, electrolytes use their positive or negative charge in different ways to regulate the body and to compensate for any potential nutrient imbalances. The body is a self-regulating system and electrolytes are its secret weapon. Pretty awesome, right? Except for when things don't go right...
What Happens When Electrolytes Run Low
Electrolytes are clearly very important, and consequences of an electrolyte imbalance can be severe. Imbalances can lead to fatigue, nausea, lethargy, and even seizures, mental confusion, and severe muscle weakness. Electrolyte disorders are most often caused by loss of bodily fluids through diarrhea, vomiting, or sweating, though they can also result from kidney issues or other underlying illnesses.
For example, if you have too much of the electrolyte calcium in your body, this could be caused by thyroid disorders. lung diseases, or kidney diseases. On the other hand, if you have too little calcium, this can be because of kidney failure, vitamin D deficiency, and more.
An overabundance of the electrolyte chloride can be caused by dehydration or kidney failure, while too little chloride is connected to cystic fibrosis, kidney failure, and more. Electrolyte imbalances can also be caused by addictions to various drugs, eating disorders, and cancers.
To prevent electrolyte disorders, be sure to stay hydrated, eat healthy, take electrolyte supplements if you lose a lot of water, and and see a doctor if you have symptoms of an electrolyte disorder.
Where to Find Electrolytes
In the body, electrolytes are located in our blood, urine, and sweat. According to Healthline, electrolytes can be found in:
- fish, such as flounder
- canned foods, such as soups and vegetables