Electrolytes: Why Your Body Needs Them

Electrolytes, as their name implies, are required for processes in the body that rely on a small electrical current to function. I had a discussion with a friend the other day who stated quite simply: “We are really just complex puddles of water that need an electrical charge to work.”  Though it’s a funny explanation, electrolytes are necessary for most bodily processes of everyday life. 




The main electrolytes in the human body include:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Bicarbonate
  • Chloride
  • Phosphate 

Automatic processes like nerve and muscle function, hydration, blood pressure and tissue repair all rely on optimal electrolyte status.

 Magnesium is one of my favourite minerals. Our bones readily take up magnesium at a high rate, so it’s no surprise that 60% of the magnesium in your body is found in your bones. Energy production, lactic acid removal, and immune function all rely on optimal magnesium intake. Athletes deficient in dietary magnesium intake may have a significant reduction in exercise performance when compared to their peers. Excessive alcohol intake, gastrointestinal problems, anorexia, and certain medications may predispose an individual to insufficient magnesium status.

Magnesium is also a helpful nutrient for headaches; whether they are tension, cluster, menstrually-related, or migraines. Numerous studies investigating the effects of magnesium supplementation have reported beneficial results on number of days with a headache, frequency of attacks and total pain scores. 

If you suffer from chronic headaches, it is important to be assessed by a healthcare practitioner. Ask your healthcare provider whether magnesium supplementation is safe for you. The most commonly reported side effect with magnesium supplements is diarrhea; especially with forms of magnesium that are poorly absorbed.

Other diet and lifestyle factors can result in loss of important electrolytes.

One study looking at caffeine consumption in healthy young females found that higher amounts of caffeine intake can cause loss of sodium, calcium, and magnesium. Higher intake of caffeine per body weight caused increased urinary output of sodium, calcium, and magnesium. If you’re a regular coffee or tea drinker, you might want to consider upping your vegetable, nut, and seed intake to help with potential electrolyte loss.

If you’re someone who is exercising regularly, you might also want to assess your electrolyte intake. Exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health, but if you are lacking hydration your body will not perform to the best of its abilities. Sweat contains not only electrolytes but also vitamin B required for energy production) and vitamin C

 If you’re consuming a low fat or low calorie diet, and your consumption of fruits and vegetables is low, you are more likely to develop an exercise-induced nutritional deficiency.

 Here’s a tasty recipe for an electrolyte drink that you can use to recuperate from strenuous exercise. I like this version because it does not contain refined sugars, vegetable oils, or artificial colours.

 

References:

1. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research; Marriott BM, editor. Nutritional Needs in Hot Environments: Applications for Military Personnel in Field Operations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1993. 8, The Effect of Exercise and Heat on Vitamin Requirements.Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK236216/

2. Ismail I, et al. Rehydration with sodium-enriched coconut water after exercise-induced dehydration. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health 2007; 38(4): 769-785.

3. Massey LK, Wise KJ. The effect of dietary caffeine on urinary excretion of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium in healthy young females. Nutr Res 1984; 4(1): 43-50.

4. McDonald R., Keen CL. Iron, zinc and magnesium nutrition and athletic performance. Sports Med 1988; 5(3): 171-184.

5. Shirreffs SM., Sawka MN. Fluid and electrolyte needs for training, competition, and recovery. J Sports Sci 2011; 29: 39-46. 

6. Yablon LA, Mauskop A. Magnesium in headache. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507271/