Electrolytes - Meaning, Sources, Imbalance

Updated: Mar 28



What Are Electrolytes?


Water and electrolytes work hand in hand. Water acts as the transport medium for electrolytes to move throughout the body. The electrolytes act as the messenger.


When electrolytes dissolve in the body fluids such as blood, it becomes an electric charge (positive or negative electric charge). That charge sends signals to the heart, muscle cells, and other body cells from the nerves. That charge helps with controlling or managing blood pressure, muscle contraction, hormone regulation, and maintaining fluid balance, just to name a few.


The most common sources of electrolytes are found in minerals or compounds. More specifically the four main sources of electrolytes come from sodium, calcium potassium, and magnesium. Chloride, phosphate, bicarbonate, and sulfate are also sources of electrolytes.


List of Electrolytes: Types of Electrolytes

Sodium

Sodium carries a positive electrical charge when dissolved in the body’s fluids. An individual needs to consume about 500 mg of sodium daily so the human body can perform normal nerve and muscle functions such as, conducting nerve impulses, contracting and relaxing muscles, controlling blood volume, and maintaining the proper balance of water and minerals.


Sodium is mostly located in the blood and in the fluid around cells (extracellular fluid). The kidney controls the level of sodium in the body. When sodium consumption is too high, the kidney will adjust the amount of sodium excreted in urine or sweat to regain balance.


When sodium levels are too low, the kidney will be triggered to stimulate the adrenal gland. A hormone called aldosterone is secreted so the kidney can retain sodium and will excrete potassium. The pituitary gland will also be triggered resulting in the secretion of vasopressin (antidiuretic hormone) which causes the kidneys to conserve water.


Too little sodium can lead to hyponatremia and too high of sodium can lead to hypernatremia.


Chloride

Chloride carries a negative electrical charge when dissolved in the body’s fluids. The estimated daily value for chloride is 2,300 mg so the body can balance acids and bases, balance electrolytes, help regulate fluids in the body cells and blood pressure, help the muscles and heart contract, help with digestion, send nerve impulses through the body to the brain, aid red blood cells (release oxygen and in-take carbon dioxide), and preserve electrical neutrality. Chloride is connected to sodium (chloride combined with sodium is commonly called salt) and potassium to maintain a balance between fluids and electrolytes, acids, and bases.


Chloride is most commonly abundant in the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, and lungs. The kidney is responsible for maintaining the proper level of chloride in plasma. Chloride is filtered through the glomeruli and absorbed along the proximal tubule.


Abnormal levels of chloride can lead to a metabolic disorder, metabolic acidosis, or alkalosis.


Potassium

Potassium carries a positive electrical charge when dissolved in the body’s fluids. The daily recommended intake is 3,500 - 4,700 mg. Potassium's role in the body is to help maintain the balance of fluids, muscle contraction, and support blood pressure.