News from CRIS: Trending - Electrolytes

July 24, 2023

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are not a single ingredient. Instead, electrolytes are a group of essential minerals that carry an electric charge when dissolved in water or bodily fluids. These charged particles maintain various physiological functions within our bodies (1).

How do electrolytes work?

Once our bodies dissolve electrolytes in water or bodily fluids, the electrolytes become ions with a positive or negative charge. These charged ions allow for the flow of electrical signals throughout the body and are necessary for numerous physiological functions (1).

When we talk about electricity in the human body context, we're referring to the electrical signals produced by the movement of charged ions across cell membranes.

For example, during a nerve impulse, positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged potassium ions move in and out of nerve cells, creating a flow of electrical signals along the nerve pathways. This movement of ions is possible because of the presence of electrolytes, specifically sodium and potassium, in the body's extracellular and intracellular fluids (1).

What are common electrolytes? What systems do electrolytes regulate?

Common electrolytes include,

  • Sodium (Na+): Helps regulate fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contractions.

  • Potassium (K+): Important for nerve and muscle function, and heart health.

  • Calcium (Ca2+): Essential for bone health, muscle function, and nerve transmission.

  • Magnesium (Mg2+): Supports muscle and nerve function, energy production, and bone health.

  • Chloride (Cl-): Works alongside sodium to maintain fluid balance and is commonly consumed as table salt.

  • Bicarbonate (HCO3-): Helps regulate acid-base balance (pH) in the body and is naturally produced by the kidneys.

  • Phosphate (HPO42- or H2PO4-): Important for bone health and energy metabolism.

What happens when our electrolytes get out of balance? What causes electrolyte imbalance?

When electrolytes get out of balance in the body, it can lead to various health issues and disruptions in normal physiological function and can cause dehydration symptoms, irregular heartbeat, impact kidney function, and more.

Electrolyte imbalances can occur due to factors such as excessive sweating, dehydration, certain medical conditions, medications, and extreme dietary habits.

How do we get electrolytes in our diet?

In most cases, we obtain electrolytes through a well-rounded diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and other nutrient-rich foods.

We may also get electrolytes from sports drinks and electrolyte-enhanced beverages.

Are electrolytes safe to consume?

Electrolytes are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) ingredients, meaning they are safe when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet. This includes not just foods, but electrolyte-enhanced drinks like water and sports drinks as needed.

Are electrolytes-enhanced beverages safe to consume?

When consumed in normal quantities when needed, electrolyte-enhanced beverages can be beneficial, especially if you’ve experienced illness, heat exhaustion, or other situations where you may be dehydrated.


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