If you’ve ever seen drinks at the grocery store advertised as containing electrolytes, you may have wondered what electrolytes are and their purpose. Electrolytes are naturally occurring elements that carry an electric charge and assist metabolic systems. These materials usually take the form of minerals, including calcium, chloride, magnesium, and potassium.

The minerals in your body are responsible for a number of vital functions like helping balance the pH levels in the body, encouraging muscle contractions (including keeping your heart beating), helping your body to repair and build new tissues, and preventing blood from clotting. The body’s natural reactions, such as sweating or being ill with diarrhea or vomiting, can reduce electrolytes.

An imbalance can greatly affect your health and body functions. Even being low in one electrolyte can cause noticeable symptoms. When you have an imbalance of electrolytes, you may feel weak, tired, confused, nervous, or numb. You may also experience the following:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Twitching
  • Spike or drop in blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Muscle spasms
  • Vomiting
  • Thirst or dry mouth
  • Frequent urination

In some situations, the body loses electrolytes faster, and you may need to replace the missing electrolytes quickly. You can drink electrolyte filled drinks, like sports drinks, to quickly replenish your levels. There are also plenty of ways to get a healthy dose of the electrolytes you need during a regular day. Most people get their necessary daily electrolytes from foods in a regular diet and do not need supplements. Some examples for each type of electrolyte are:

  • Calcium – Helps with heart health, muscle function, and nerve signaling. Commonly found in: 
    • Milk
    • Cheese
    • Yogurt
    • Fish, including sardines and salmon
    • Legumes, like beans or lentils
    • Almonds
    • Whey protein
    • Leafy greens, including collard greens, kale, and spinach 
  • Chloride – Helps regulate the amount of fluid and balance acids and bases in the body. Commonly found in: 
    • Seaweed
    • Rye
    • Table salt
    • Vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and peas 
    • Olives
  • Magnesium – Supports muscle growth; regulates nerve function, blood sugar, and blood pressure; and produces energy. Commonly found in:
    • Leafy greens
    • Nuts and seeds
    •  Beans and other legumes
    • Whole grains
    • Wheat or wheat germ
    • Avocados
  • Phosphate – Helps the body build and repair bones and teeth while supporting nerve function and muscle contraction. Commonly found in:
    • Meats like chicken, turkey, or pork
    • Seafood, including catfish, sardines, carp, clams, scallops, crab, mackerel, and crayfish
    • Dairy products like milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt
    • Sunflower or pumpkin seeds or nuts
    • Whole grains, including gluten-free options like quinoa 
  • Potassium – Assists with nerve function and helps muscles contract. Commonly found in:
    • Fruits like bananas, oranges, melons, apricots, raisins, and dates
    • Cooked spinach or broccoli 
    • Potatoes (with the skin) 
    • Mushrooms 
    • Leafy greens 
  • Sodium – Serves an important role in nerve and muscle function and maintains levels of fluid in the body. Commonly found in:
    • Table salt
    • Meats that have been smoked, cured, salted, or canned 
    • Fish, including sardines, caviar, or anchovies 
    • Root vegetables like celery, carrots, or beets 
    • Spinach or chard 
  •  Bicarbonate – Helps maintain the body’s natural pH balance. Commonly found in: 
    • Avocados 
    • Bananas
    • Potatoes
    •  Spinach

Talk with your doctor before adding or removing electrolytes to your diet, to ensure balanced electrolyte levels. Your doctor will be able to perform an electrolyte panel, via blood draw, and will provide the levels of certain electrolytes in your system. In some cases, you can also provide a urine sample for testing of electrolyte levels.

We are here when you need us! Patient First is able to evaluate and treat a wide range of illnesses and injuries. You can visit any Patient First  center  from 8am to 8pm, every day of the year – no appointment is needed.

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