Especially in the heat of the summer we may hear the word "electrolytes" bandied about, and maybe we are tossing it around in our conversations as well. But, what exactly is an electrolyte? Do you know?
Electrolytes are mineral compounds that become ions. Ions are electrically charged particles that form after the mineral compounds have been dissolved in water. They're found in your blood and other bodily fluids and come from the food and drink you consume.
There are several kinds of electrolytes, like calcium, potassium, and sodium. In order for you to be in good health, your electrolytes need to be in proper balance. Electrolytes play an important role in the workings of your heart and nerves, your ability to absorb fluids, as well as in your muscles. They are controlled by hormones and are filtered out by the kidneys when you have too much of them.
But what if you don't have enough of them?
Potassium and sodium are contained in many types of sports drinks for the purpose of bringing your electrolytes back into balance after you've been sweating and working out.
Your electrolyte balance can be thrown out of whack if you have been vomiting, if you have kidney problems, or diarrhea. Some medications can even alter your electrolyte balance. And of course, sweating can change your electrolyte balance as well.
We are presently experiencing a heat wave throughout much of North America and electrolyte balance is precarious in those areas being hit hard by the sun.
Sue Leahy, president of the American Safety and Health Institute in New Paltz, New York, said that heat stroke is a big risk when temperatures soar. She recommends the standard drinking amount of water, but emphasizes that in order to replace electrolytes, sports drinks do a better job. This is because they increase your salt and help you retain fluid.
Leahy also explains that leg cramps can be the first warning that you could be heading for heat exhaustion and possibly heat stroke. Cramps, especially leg cramps, mean you are losing electrolytes and salt. The sweating your body has been using to cool itself can no longer happen if you develop heat stroke.
If you become dehydrated, your kidneys will stop excreting fluid so that you don't lose any more fluid. The electrolyte imbalance results in metabolic acidosis, where your body fluid's pH is too low. Your breathing may become rapid and you may feel confused and lethargic. Ultimately, this can lead to shock or even death if treatment isn't given. So make sure you stay hydrated everyday to avoid all the dangers of dehydration.
Jody Smith is a freelance writer for Empowher.com
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