What Are Electrolytes?


Electrolytes are Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Chloride, Bicarbonate,  Calcium and Phosphate and despite what you will read on the internet it is not carbohydrate withdrawal that gives you the "keto flu" it is an electrolyte imbalance that makes you feel sick. I will outline why it is important to be mindful of your electrolytes and why they deserve so much attention. 

Our body fluid is mostly composed of water and electrolytes with sodium in the fluid and potassium in the cells this balance becomes the force that allows life giving material to move in and out of the cells, electrolytes are necessary for all cellular functions and this is the root of everything that we are, without any of the four electrolytes all functions in our cells and organs would cease.

When dissolved in water, salt (NaCl) breaks apart into the positively charged sodium (Na+) and the negatively charged chloride (Cl-) and these electrical charges are responsible for creating an electrically-conductive solution and it one half of the electrical pump that maintains the electrolyte solutions which is your body fluids. 

Sodium Chloride

The positively charged sodium ion (cation), when in circulation, is responsible regulating the amount of water in your body, for the electrical signals that are required for the brain, nervous system and muscles for communication. Without the correct amount of sodium, the system breaks down and it can cause cells to malfunction.

Potassium is the cation that is found inside the cells, and is the other half of the electrical pump that keeps the fluid conducive to allow communication between cells and keeps the rest of the electrolytes in balance. that potassium regulates blood pressure, the heart beat and your muscle function. Low sodium levels directly affect your potassium levels because for the body to maintain homeostasis or a balance in the intra and extracellular fluid it will push potassium out of the cells if sodium in low extracellularly to maintain the correct balance. The correct balance between sodium and potassium is important but most adults are potassium deficient because of the abundance of processed food eaten over real food. This electrolyte is naturally found in meat and vegetables and is easily obtained without having to supplement (not recommended unless prescribed by a doctor); low potassium can increase the risk of hypertension, heart disease and stroke (remember Potassium regulates the muscles and your heart is a muscle).

Magnesium might be the most undervalued, life giving mineral on the planet. Magnesium is alone responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions e.g. affects cell energy, fat and protein synthesis, muscle contractions, bone formation and may even have a role in insulin secretion just to name a few. Magnesium helps in nerve and muscle function, stabilizes your blood sugar, improves your immune system and heart rate and its responsible for the synthesis of RNA and DNA and essential to every cell in every living thing on earth.

We all know that calcium is good for your bones and teeth but did you know that it is also necessary for blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve impulses. If you don’t get enough calcium, then your body takes what it needs from your body and this is what causes osteoporosis.

Phosphate is the second most abundant mineral in your body after calcium and it is crucial to cellular energy function, tissue growth and repair and is a major building block for cell membranes and DNA. Chloride is a negatively charged ion (anion) found both outside the cell and is responsible for maintaining a fluid balance in the body, when you consume salt for your sodium you are getting Chloride as well so no need to monitor this electrolyte separately. The Bicarbonate ion regulates the acidity (pH) in the blood and other fluids in the body and it one of the main reasons our bodies can maintain homeostasis. 

This is just a small overview to show what electrolytes are for and why we care about them it would take too long and it would be easier to count grains of sand on a beach than it would to count the functions that electrolytes control.

On a standard American diet, it is possible to maintain the correct amount electrolytes without much too thought (although most people are magnesium deficient) but when you are in ketosis your body behaves a little differently and needs a little more care towards your electrolytes from you. When you restrict the amount of carbohydrates and put your body into a state of ketosis your kidneys excrete sodium which as you read directly affects the amount of potassium in your cells and this disrupts the electrical pump that keeps the pathway of communication open for your brain, muscles and nerves and your body cannot maintain the correct amount of potassium in the cells if the extracellular sodium is too low. To lose weight and stay healthy on a low carb ketogenic diet you must supplement your sodium intake, eat foods rich in potassium and magnesium and keep an eye on your calcium all of the fundamental functions of your body rely on electrolytes – don’t wait until you have symptoms use preventative care when it comes to your body.