Electrolyte balance: what is it and why is it important?

Elektrolythaushalt: Was ist das und wofĂŒr ist es wichtig?

The body should be healthy and able to function. It accompanies you throughout your life. That is why the electrolyte balance needs special attention. Because it ensures that your blood can supply all important organs and that your body does not become acidic, among other things. The electrolyte balance ensures balance, which is important for all processes in the body.

The electrolyte balance is closely related to the water balance and ensures a balance of the acid-base balance. Find out in this article what happens when the electrolyte balance is imbalanced and what the causes are. Also internalize how you can actively support and balance the electrolyte balance.

the essentials in brief

  • The electrolyte balance consists of electrolytes, which are substances such as salts, acids and bases. Important electrolytes include magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium, phosphate and many more. These must be ingested through food because the body cannot produce them itself.
  • A constant concentration of electrolytes is important so that the electrolyte balance can carry out many important life processes. The electrolyte balance is closely related to the water balance.
  • A disturbance in the electrolyte balance can be caused by water loss, previous illnesses or an unbalanced diet. There is either a deficiency or an excess of electrolytes. This has various causes and manifests itself in various symptoms.

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Background: what is the electrolyte balance?

In our guide you will find the most important information about the electrolyte balance in our body.

What is the electrolyte balance and what is involved?

The electrolyte balance consists of a composition of electrolytes. These electrolytes are ingested, transformed, and eventually expelled. The electrolytes serve to conduct electricity and are responsible for many different functions in the body. Such electrolytes are trace elements, minerals and salts.

Some of the most important electrolytes are shown and explained in the following list:

  • Potassium: Potassium is an essential mineral that regulates fluid levels. It also helps with enzyme processes by activating enzymes. This happens, for example, in protein synthesis. It also helps to regulate blood pressure and, in conjunction with calcium, ensures the contraction of skeletal, vascular and cardiac muscles.
  • Sodium: Sodium also regulates the fluid content. This creates it in conjunction with potassium. By working together with potassium, transport processes can also take place through the membrane. Sodium is also important for the acid-base balance.
  • Calcium: The mineral calcium is present in the body as positively charged electrolytes and is 99% in the bones. Within the cell, calcium is an important messenger in the transmission of signals. It is responsible for converting nerve impulses into muscle activity. Calcium also plays an important role in blood clotting and the release of hormones. To prevent the blood from becoming acidic, calcium helps keep the pH constant.
  • Magnesium: The important mineral magnesium supplies the body cells with energy. It affects energy metabolism by activating enzymes and producing proteins. It also controls muscle contraction, among other things. For example, the heart muscle needs magnesium to work day after day.
  • Phosphate: Along with calcium, phosphate is important for bones and teeth. However, phosphate is involved in many different processes, for example energy production and the metabolism of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats). In addition, it also helps to regulate the pH value in the blood and thus the acid-base balance. The transport of oxygen in the blood, for which phosphate is responsible, is also very important.
  • Hydrogen Carbonate: Also called bicarbonate, is an important salt made up of carbonic acid. It neutralizes acids and helps regulate acid-base balance. Hydrogen carbonate can be produced by the body as part of its own metabolism, but this is not enough when there is an increased acid load. Such increased acidity can occur from overindulging in animal products, alcohol, fat, sugar, and stress.

In the body, the electrolytes exist as either positively or negatively charged ions in an aqueous solution. The electrolyte balance is closely related to the water balance. Since the body cannot produce the electrolytes itself, they must be obtained from food and liquids.

Each individual electrolyte takes on important functions in the body, which take place in cooperation in many processes. This is essential to keep the body in balance. (1,2,3)

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How does the electrolyte balance work?

The various electrolytes, which are substances made up of acids, salts and minerals , serve as ion conductors and can conduct electricity. In this way, many different bodily functions can be carried out. The ions are in aqueous solution either inside or outside the cells. Among other things, they can keep the osmotic pressure of the cell constant or regulate the water balance. The body's own hormones also ensure the absorption and release of electrolytes.

The electrolyte balance regulates, among other things, the pH value of the cells and the blood.

Among other things, the electrolyte balance can only function if the body is sufficiently hydrated. In addition, all electrolytes must be regularly ingested through food. A constant level of electrolytes in the body is therefore a prerequisite for the functioning of all processes in the organism.

In addition to equalizing pressure, the electrolyte balance regulates the pH of cells and blood. This also regulates the acid-base balance. It also coordinates the contraction and relaxation of muscle tissue. (2.3)

electrolyte balance

Electrolyte balance is involved in many different processes in the body. A constant electrolyte balance is essential for this. (Source: Camilo Jimenez/ Unsplash)

What happens if the electrolyte balance is disturbed?

If the electrolyte balance is disturbed, water cannot be stored properly at the same time. Accordingly, the water balance is also disturbed and the body cannot hydrate. Consequently, if important electrolytes are missing, the first symptoms of dehydration can appear. This can lead to edema , because the body tries to store all the water that is still available.

A disorder often occurs due to a lack of electrolytes.

Electrolyte imbalance is often the result of a deficiency or excess of electrolytes. Both extremes can lead to dehydration and other physical symptoms. (3)

Which symptoms are signs of a disturbed electrolyte balance?

The first symptoms of a disturbed electrolyte balance can be those of dehydration. You can recognize these from headaches, dry mouth, dizziness, low blood pressure or a small volume of urine. As a result, visual disturbances can occur, as well as mental confusion, aggression, and fainting.

Muscle cramps, headaches or even low blood pressure can indicate a lack of electrolytes.

In addition, a lack of thirst or an excessive feeling of thirst indicates a disturbance in the electrolyte balance. If the first symptoms are not counteracted, the consequences can be worse. Ultimately, tongue swelling and thirst occur. But in addition to dehydration, an imbalance manifests itself in, among other things, cardiac arrhythmia, low blood pressure or muscle cramps. (3)

Ultimately, however, the symptoms are not always clearly due to a disturbance in the electrolyte balance. Therefore, the concentration of each individual electrolyte should be measured by a doctor.

How does an electrolyte imbalance develop?

Factors such as insufficient fluid intake and water loss, previous illnesses such as chronic intestinal diseases, kidney and liver diseases are prerequisites for a disruption in the electrolyte balance. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption affects the electrolyte balance. An unbalanced diet also prevents the body from supplying all the important electrolytes.

Sports

Electrolyte and water loss through sweaty sport must be compensated. (Source: Sam Moqadam/ Unsplash)

A deficiency or excess of electrolytes leads to an imbalance in the electrolyte balance. The following list explains the causes.

  • Magnesium deficiency -/excess: Chronic intestinal diseases and excessive alcohol consumption are expressed, among other things, in a magnesium deficiency.(4,5)
  • Calcium deficiency -/excess: A calcium deficiency is favored by an underactive parathyroid gland and a vitamin D deficiency. Again, the cause of an excess of calcium can be an overactive parathyroid gland and vitamin D poisoning. (6,7,8)
  • Sodium deficiency -/excess: If sea water is swallowed, it removes water from the body on the one hand and on the other hand it adds too much sodium to the body. In contrast, a sodium deficiency can arise from distilled water. Distilled water leads to hyperhydration. The water cannot be stored because the body is not supplied with enough sodium. This can manifest itself, among other things, in low blood pressure. (9.10)
  • Potassium deficiency -/excess: Potassium deficiency can affect and weaken muscle and nerve function. This causes muscle paralysis. This means that the muscles hardly react and are paralyzed. The cause of a potassium deficiency are typical causes, such as an unbalanced diet or previous illnesses in the gastrointestinal tract. Excess potassium (hyperkalemia) can be caused by drugs that prevent the kidneys from excreting potassium. This is how too much potassium is stored. In contrast, renal insufficiency can be responsible for excess potassium. (11:12)

Dehydrating medications and medications that impede the functioning of the organs by slowing down blood promote an imbalance in the electrolyte balance. However, diseases in the gastrointestinal tract, the liver and the kidneys are primarily responsible for a disorder.

Excessive sweating due to fever and exercise, as well as diarrhea and vomiting also promote a lack of water and thus a lack of important electrolytes. In addition, excessive blood loss can result in dehydration. In addition to these factors, the electrolyte balance can also be disturbed if isotonic drinks are consumed excessively.

How can the electrolyte balance be balanced?

The electrolyte balance can be balanced as a first aid by drinking plenty of fluids with isotonic drinks and water mixed with minerals. If the lack of water is too severe, an infusion with an electrolyte solution can help. Then the electrolyte balance and the water balance come back into balance.

Fruit and vegetables, which are high in fiber, can also counteract the imbalance. These include apples with their skins, carrots and plums. Such pectin-containing and fiber-rich foods keep the water balance constant. (3)

It is important, however, if there is any suspicion, to have the mineral content in the blood examined. In this way, an imbalance in the electrolyte balance can be determined. This can also be checked in the urine. The concentration of each individual electrolyte is measured. After that, targeted preparations and a nutrition plan can help. Targeted therapies and preparations are used for chronic diseases such as the intestines and kidneys.

What foods are good for balancing electrolytes?

With regard to medication, previous illnesses or an unbalanced diet, it is important to balance the electrolyte balance. A balanced diet is essential for this.

fruit and vegetables

Fruits, vegetables and fruit and vegetable juices are high in fiber and rich in minerals, water and vitamins. They are essential for a balanced diet.

The following tables provide an overview of the types of fruit and vegetables that are rich in important minerals and should be integrated into the diet plan.

Fruit vitamins minerals
Apple A, B, C potassium, magnesium
plum B3, B5, K potassium
kiwi C, K Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron
blackberry B3, B5, K potassium, magnesium
lemon C, B9 potassium, magnesium

The lists can of course be continued. They only serve as a small overview of the types of fruit and vegetables that contain important minerals. (13)

Vegetables vitamins minerals
carrots A, carotenoids potassium, iron, iodine
broccoli A, B1, B2, B5, B9, C, Carotenoids, K Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Iron, Zinc, Iodine
beans B3, B5, K potassium, magnesium
Corn B3, B5, B6 Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorus
spinach A, C, B1, B2, B6, B7, B9, carotenoids Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Iodine, Iron

If fruits and vegetables are included in the diet and consumed regularly, disturbances in the electrolyte balance can be actively counteracted. In addition, fruit and vegetables are rich in water and vitamins. Due to the alkaline effect of many varieties, they also help the acid-base balance.

fruit and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are rich in water, vitamins and minerals. These elements are essential for electrolyte balance and many other processes in the body. (Source: Engin Akyurt/ Unsplash)

Animal products

Milk consists of almost 87.5% water. In addition, milk contains many minerals and trace elements such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iodine and phosphate. These are important to keep the electrolyte balance constant.

Eggs, fish and meat are also rich in electrolytes such as phosphate. Fruit and vegetables, for example, are considered low in phosphorus. However, animal products are acid-forming foods. Therefore, an excess can damage the acid-base balance and thus the electrolyte balance.

Isotonic Sports Drinks

Isotonic sports drinks are specially designed for sports in order to be able to quickly balance the electrolyte balance through exertion with heavy sweating. This drink should also be consumed in moderation so as not to overtax the body and ultimately disturb the electrolyte balance.

Water

An average person covers about 20 percent of their water requirements through food. The remaining 80 percent should be done through drinking. The table below illustrates the recommended daily amount of liquid that should be covered by drinking.

Old Gender Daily hydration
Adult Women 2 liters
Adult Men 3 liters
Older Adults/ Seniors - 1.7 liters

If you are active in sports, you should compensate for the loss of fluids and drink significantly more. However, with kidney disease, it may be the case that fluid intake may need to be reduced. In this case, however, this should be clarified with a doctor. (14.15)

legumes

Legumes such as lentils are high in fiber and protein and contain lots of minerals, vitamins and trace elements that help maintain the electrolyte balance. Deficiencies such as potassium, magnesium or phosphate deficiency can be counteracted with legumes.

  • lenses
  • soybeans
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans (including white beans and kidney beans)

The list illustrates some examples of legumes that can help balance electrolytes. The list is of course expandable. If various pulses are integrated into the diet, an imbalance in the electrolyte balance can be counteracted.

Legumes are excellent suppliers of nutrients in vegetarian and vegan diets that lack nutrients from animal foods. Legumes serve as a varied and nutrient-rich diet.

Conclusion

Electrolyte balance is important for many different processes in the body. It consists of different electrolytes. These must be present in a certain concentration so that the electrolyte balance is in balance. Electrolytes must be obtained from food. Electrolytes include magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium and phosphate. Salts such as hydrogen carbonate are also included. For example, it ensures the balance of the acid-base balance.

A balanced, varied diet is essential so that the electrolyte balance can carry out the important processes in the body, including energy metabolism, the regulation of the nervous system and the muscles. You should pay special attention to the electrolyte balance and eat a balanced diet, especially if you are taking dehydrating medication or if you have previous illnesses. It is also important to compensate for water loss, especially in summer, when you have a fever or when you do a lot of sport.

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