You may only know electrolytes as the hydrating minerals in sports drinks, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Electrolytes have a metric boatload of benefits. This article covers what electrolytes are and what they can do for your health. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a master’s degree in electrolyte benefits.
Let’s get to it!
Head-to-Toe Benefits of Electrolytes
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals that produce ions when dissolved in a solution like blood, sweat, or urine. They’re called “electro”-lytes because they produce either a positive or negative electrical charge. Whatever you do, don’t let your electrolytes get out of balance---your entire body and brain can get thrown out of whack!
7 Most Important Electrolytes
Here are the most important electrolytes for nutritional health:
They work as a team to allow nutrients into the cells, expel waste, and produce energy. Oh...and they have health benefits to boot.
Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance
Several factors can disrupt your electrolyte levels and lead to harmful side effects. A few common causes of electrolyte imbalance include:
- Certain medications
- Severe burns
- Heart failure
- Eating disorders
- Kidney disease
Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalance
How do you know if your electrolyte levels are out of whack? In most cases, you’ll have at least a few symptoms. They can vary in severity based on the specific minerals that are affected. Common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include:
- Mood changes
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Frequent urination
- Dry mouth
10+ Head-to-Toe Benefits of Electrolytes
When your electrolytes are all squared away, they support nerve, muscle, bone, heart, and brain health. Electrolyte benefits include:
- Helping your muscles contract (including the heart)
- Balancing blood pH (acidity levels)
- Regulating blood pressure
- Controlling cellular fluid balance
...and much, much more. Here are just a few of the BIGGEST benefits of electrolytes:
1. Enhances Exercise Performance
Electrolyte beverages help replenish the water, minerals, and energy lost during exercise. Believe it or not, losing just 1-2 percent of your body weight in sweat can decrease your strength, speed, and focus (1). And when you sweat like a maniac, you lose electrolytes like crazy too. Sweat contains a ton of sodium, but it also has magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Especially during long workouts in hot weather, keep an electrolyte beverage nearby at all times.
2. Promotes Sleep
Quality sleep is another major health benefit of electrolytes. For example, calcium helps the brain transform tryptophan into the sleep hormone melatonin. And according to the journal Neuroscience, calcium promotes deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (2). Electrolytes may even help people with insomnia. For example, a 2012 double-blind clinical trial involving 46 elderly adults with insomnia found that magnesium supplementation can increase sleep time and sleep efficiency (3).
Researchers also noticed increased levels of sleep hormones and lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Naturally, better sleep leads to less daytime fatigue, enhanced focus, and more productive days. Dang, these electrolyte benefits are really stacking up! The more rested you are, the better you perform.
3. Strengthens Immunity
Electrolytes have a close relationship with the immune system. Magnesium, for example, helps the body control inflammation (4). Working together, electrolytes like potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium control what’s allowed to enter the cell. They promote healthy apoptosis: the process the body uses to destroy cells before they have a chance to mutate.
4. Improves Cognition
When you’re low on electrolytes, memory and attention can go downhill... fast. What’s crazy is that you don’t even have to be that dehydrated to start feeling the side effects. Researchers have found that even the slightest bit of dehydration can negatively affect brain function (5). Take sodium for example---too much of it can cause the brain to swell, but too little can cause the brain to shrink, and both are bad for cognition.
At the same time, electrolytes like calcium, phosphate, and magnesium are equally important. Low levels of these minerals can affect mood and even trigger seizures in severe circumstances (6). The key is to keep your electrolyte levels in the Goldilocks zone---not too high and not too low. Luckily the body is naturally pretty good at making adjustments, but it’s up to you to consume enough electrolytes through food and supplements.
5. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety reduction is another key benefit of electrolytes. Magnesium is especially important for reducing anxiety. For example, a meta-analysis of 18 studies found that the “Existing evidence is suggestive of a beneficial effect of Mg on subjective anxiety” (7). Magnesium plays a central role in the body’s natural stress response.
At the same time, chronic stress can easily deplete magnesium and increase the risk of anxiety and depression. The solution? Get enough magnesium in your diet, either from supplements or magnesium-rich foods like dark chocolate, avocados, and almonds.
6. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
According to recent research, type 2 diabetes may be linked to low potassium. In a study conducted at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, researchers linked potassium deficiency to high levels of insulin and glucose, both of which are signs of diabetes (8). However, more research needs to be conducted in order to determine if dietary potassium supplements can reduce the risk of diabetes. With that said, potassium and other electrolytes can be part of a diabetes prevention plan, along with avoiding sugar and getting enough exercise.
7. Supports Heart Health
Electrolyte levels have a direct impact on the health of your ticker. For starters, the combination of too little potassium and too much sodium is associated with high blood pressure. In general, most people consume too much sodium in their diet. If this sounds like you, don’t worry… Research shows that by increasing your potassium intake, you can decrease blood pressure (9). Other research shows that increasing potassium and decreasing sodium is essential to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. One study found that people who consumed about 4,000mg of potassium each day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from heart disease compared to those who consumed roughly 1,000 mg per day (10).
Magnesium and calcium also help support proper blood pressure. Plus, magnesium reduces inflammation, prevents arteries from becoming clogged, and normalizes irregular heartbeats.
8. Strengthens the Muscles and Bones
The benefits of electrolytes may even extend to your muscles and bones. Most people eat too many acidifying foods like dairy, meat, and processed cereal grains that increase acidity in the body. Acidosis can lead to a loss in bone mineral density and muscle wasting. However, a diet that’s high in potassium can help stabilize pH, prevent metabolic acidosis, and preserve muscle mass. One recent study found that people who get a high daily potassium intake maintain an average of 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass than people who get 50 percent less potassium (11).
9. Improves Digestion
Electrolytes keep the digestive system chugging along. Your intestines are lined with smooth muscle tissue that’s controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the part you can’t consciously control. Their rhythmic contractions are important for nutrient absorption and waste elimination. Potassium allows the muscles in the intestines to contract. However, low potassium levels can inhibit healthy digestion. That’s why it’s so important to load up on potassium with food and electrolyte supplements!
10. May Prevent Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are clumps of solid material that collect in the urine. More often than not, they’re made of calcium deposits. Because of the way that potassium and calcium interact, research shows that taking potassium citrate can help lower calcium levels in the urine (12). Ultimately, this can help prevent and treat kidney stones. A four-year study involving 45,619 men found that people who consumed the most daily potassium had a 51 percent lower risk of kidney stones (13).
11. Treats Headaches
When headaches are caused by dehydration, electrolytes can help. According to a recent study, roughly 10 percent of people experience dehydration headaches (14). They can be caused by a loss of water, a loss of electrolytes, or both. Magnesium and sodium play an especially important role in fighting dehydration headaches. When they get out of balance, it can lead to issues like headaches and fatigue. Most people have too much sodium and not enough magnesium in their diet. Magnesium deficiency can trigger headaches by:
- Increasing muscle tension
- Altering neurotransmitters
- Increasing anxiety
- Affecting blood pressure
The good news is that electrolyte supplements can be an easy and affordable way to prevent dehydration, but more on that in a sec...
Top Electrolyte Foods
Wondering how to refuel and keep your electrolyte levels in check? Following a healthy diet is a simple and effective way. This means eating more of the foods that replenish electrolytes and avoiding the ones that can throw them out of balance. Here are some of the best electrolyte foods:
- Calcium: leafy greens, almonds, sardines, yogurt, kefir, raw milk, cheese
- Sodium: pickles, olives, cottage cheese
- Chloride: tomatoes, celery, olives, seaweed
- Phosphorus: nuts, legumes, seeds, dairy, poultry, fish, beef
- Magnesium: nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, avocados, beans
- Potassium: spinach, beans, lentils, beans, sweet potatoes, bananas
These foods also contain a number of other important nutrients like vitamins and antioxidants.
Level-Up with Electrolyte Supplements
Electrolyte supplements are another great way to boost your intake of these important minerals. Most people don’t drink enough water to begin with, and to make matters worse, the modern western diet is overloaded with sodium. It’s an ideal environment for dehydration! Even worse, traditional sports drinks contain loads of sugar and a narrow profile of low-quality electrolytes.
Fortunately, there is an electrolyte supplement that you can add to any beverage---water, soda, smoothies, coffee… it’s called Buoy! It isn’t that you aren’t drinking fluids, it’s that those fluids don’t contain a balanced range of high-quality electrolytes. Squeezing top-notch electrolytes into what you’re already drinking is the answer! Toss some electrolyte foods into the mix and you’ve got yourself a stellar recipe for health and hydration. Learn more about the benefits of electrolytes and find out if Buoy is right for you!
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