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What is The Importance of Electrolytes in Summer? Dr. Badran Answers

Thu 25 Apr 2024 | 09:24 PM
Dr. Magdy Badran
Dr. Magdy Badran

By Dr: Magdy Badran

Electrolytes play a very important role in our daily lives. Summer's heat brings sunshine and fun, but it also increases the risk of dehydration.

While water is essential for rehydration, electrolytes play a critical role in how your body utilizes that water. Electrolyte imbalances occur commonly as a result of loss of electrolytes, shifts of certain electrolytes, or relative changes in concentrations caused by loss of water.

What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are substances that dissociate in solution and have the ability to conduct an electrical current. Electrolytes are the collective term for a group of minerals that include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, bicarbonate, chloride, and phosphate. These minerals are essential for balance throughout our body, and we’ll notice quickly if they’re depleted.

Electrolytes are found in the blood, sweat, and urine and are vital for various bodily functions. Electrolytes help regulate the amount of water inside and outside your cells.

Electrolytes are located in the extracellular and intracellular fluid. Within the extracellular fluid, the major cation is sodium, and the major anion is chloride. The major cation in the intracellular fluid is potassium. These electrolytes play an important role in maintaining homeostasis. This ensures proper cell function and prevents dehydration.

Causes of Electrolyte Imbalances

The main causes of electrolyte imbalances are excessive sweating due to strenuous physical activity or hot weather, vomiting, diarrhea, high fever, diuretics, laxatives, electrolyte disorders that affect the liver, metabolic alkalosis (a condition where your blood has a high pH), heart disease, adrenal and chronic kidney disease, thyroid gland disorder, diabetes insipidus, severe burns, and tissue damage to the skin.

Hot Weather and Electrolyte Imbalance

During hot weather, your body sweats more to regulate its temperature. While sweating helps cool you down, it also leads to the loss of electrolytes along with fluids. This loss can disrupt the delicate balance of electrolytes in your body, potentially leading to dehydration, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, confusion, irritability, diarrhea or constipation, headaches, irregular or fast heart rate (arrhythmia), muscle cramps, muscle spasms or weakness, nausea, vomiting, numbness or tingling in limbs.

Electrolytes and Dehydration

Dehydration is defined as the significant loss of bodily fluids. Fluid is a component of blood, and it’s needed to transport nutrients throughout the body. Bodily fluid also helps to control body temperature. Electrolyte levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day. However, changes to electrolyte levels can cause an imbalance that leads to dehydration, and worsening dehydration symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and headaches.

Electrolytes Muscle Cramps

A muscle cramp is a sudden, unexpected tightening of one or more muscles. A muscle cramp can be very painful. Electrolyte imbalance can interfere with muscle function, causing cramps and hindering physical performance. Exercising or working hard, especially in heat, can lead to muscle cramps.

Heat cramps are the most severe form of a condition called exercise-associated muscle cramping. Cramping is one of the first stages of heat illness. Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur due to dehydration and loss of nutrients from excessive sweating. They are associated with heavy perspiration. Symptoms of heat cramps often include heavy sweating, fatigue, thirst, and muscle cramps. Severe football heat cramping comes from the trio of salt loss, fluid loss and muscle fatigue.

Electrolyte and the Nervous System

Electrolytes are charged minerals that — among other things — help regulate mood, maintain energy, and facilitate cognition. A brain without electrolytes, couldn’t even think. Sodium, in particular, is the big one. The brain also needs other electrolytes like calcium, magnesium, chloride, potassium, phosphorus, and bicarbonate.

Electrolytes have two primary roles in the body conducting nerve impulses and other cellular communications and regulating fluid balance. The brain is a dense cluster of nerve cells (neurons) that continually transmit electrical messages, and electrolytes help facilitate exchanges between these neurons. The ratio of electrolytes inside and outside of a cell dictates whether or not a nerve impulse fires and sends its valuable message.

Besides cellular communication, electrolytes like sodium and potassium influence the distribution of water inside and outside cells. Maintaining this fluid balance keeps the brain cells the proper size and the brain as a whole suspended in the proper amount of fluid.

Electrolyte disorders often present with neurologic manifestations. Whereas disorders of some electrolytes, such as sodium, preferentially affect the central nervous system, disorders of others, such as potassium and calcium, have significant neuromuscular manifestations. Disruptions in nerve function due to electrolyte loss can lead to tiredness, weakness, and difficulty concentrating.

Sodium maintains osmotic balance and facilitates nerve impulse transmissions essential for cellular communication. Potassium regulates intracellular fluid balance and is pivotal for maintaining muscle contractions. Calcium is essential for neurotransmitter release, and muscle contractions.

Being low on magnesium can cause seizures, tremors, muscle spasms, and weakness, among other symptoms. Poor magnesium status can also affect mood. Magnesium may help with anxiety and depression by decreasing glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter), increasing GABA (a calming neurotransmitter), and increasing serotonin (a mood-regulating hormone).

Tips For Maintaining Electrolyte Balance in Summer

Beat the heat by avoiding situations that can lead to excessive sweating, such as hot, humid environments. Move slowly, avoid strenuous exercise when it is very warm. In hot weather, use air conditioning, fans, cool showers, and baths to stay cool; dry your skin thoroughly; and wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes.

Heat passes more easily through some fabrics than others. Natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen, allow heat to escape from the body more easily than synthetic fabrics, such as acrylic and nylon.

Hydrate with water. Carry a water bottle with you everywhere you go. Drink plenty of fluids to cool the body and to keep hydrated. Be sure to increase your fluid intake on hot or humid days, or before or after exercise. Drink more water when you’re sick.

Coconut water is a natural source of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium, making it an excellent electrolyte-rich beverage for hydration. It's low in calories and sugar.

Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine-containing beverages (coffees, teas, colas, chocolate). Yogurt is a dairy product that contains calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Choose plain yogurt without added sugars.

How to boost electrolytes? You can get the electrolytes you need by eating a balanced diet. Eat electrolyte-rich foods. Consume fruits and vegetables like watermelon, bananas, oranges, spinach, and leafy greens.

Bananas are rich in potassium. Watermelon is not only hydrating but also contains potassium and magnesium, important electrolytes for maintaining fluid balance and muscle function. It's a refreshing summer fruit that can contribute to electrolyte replenishment. Oranges provide potassium, calcium, and magnesium, supporting electrolyte balance and hydration. Avocado is a nutrient-dense fruit that provides potassium, magnesium, and healthy fats, promoting electrolyte balance, hydration, and heart health. Tomatoes contain potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Leafy green vegetables are a rich source of electrolytes. Spinach is a leafy green vegetable packed with potassium, magnesium, and calcium, important electrolytes for cardiovascular health, nerve function, and hydration. Lettuce is packed with chloride that works with sodium to maintain fluid balance. Celery is a hydrating vegetable that contains potassium, sodium, and magnesium.

Pay attention to signs of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. Assess the inside of your mouth for dehydration symptoms. If symptoms persist, consult a healthcare professional.