You may have heard about getting electrolytes from sports drinks. Well, electrolytes are actually minerals—sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, bicarbonate—that dissolve in the body’s fluids, creating electrically charged ions. “Some are positive, some are negative,” says Robin Foroutan, RD, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “They are essential because they help the body with nerve and muscle function as well as body fluid balance, blood pressure, and blood pH.”
Dehydration can lead to electrolyte imbalance. Your symptoms can vary depending on which electrolyte is out of balance and whether that level is too high or too low. One of the most abundant electrolytes in our bodies is sodium—and its role is essential. “Sodium is responsible for maintaining the body’s fluid balance,” explains Naveet Bal, MD, assistant professor of medicine, division of nephrology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Excessive exercise, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and overexposure to heat are conditions that can cause our bodies to lose water and raise our sodium levels, he says. Symptoms of hypernatremia (too much sodium in the blood) include thirst, agitation, altered state of mind, confusion and in more serious cases, seizures and coma, explains Dr. Bal. “Anytime we are severely dehydrated, it can be considered an electrolyte imbalance,” Foroutan says. “Many people will be fine if they drink a little water but if you have been exercising for a while, a sports drink may be appropriate.” Check out these 10 hydration myths you need to stop believing.
Excerpted from Reader’s Digest