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Electrolytes are Important

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 7/1/2011

Electrolytes help are body function are especially important to replenish for athletes. These chemicals keep our muscles and budy functions running smoothly.

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    What are electrolytes?

    Electrolytes are small chemicals in urine, blood, and body fluids that make our bodies work and our cells to function properly. They move water and fluids in the body, regulate nerve and muscle function, and generate electricity.

    Electrolytes are controlled by a variety of hormones that are mostly manufactured in the adrenal glands and kidneys. Specialized kidney cells have sensors that monitor the amount of sodium, potassium, and water in the bloodstream, filters electrolytes from blood, returns some, and excretes the excess into the urine.
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    Sodium is found in the plasma outside the cell, and water goes where sodium goes. Sodium is an important electrolyte that allows muscles to fire, the brain and heart to work, and helps with electrical signals in the body including the nervous system,.

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    Potassium is concentrated inside the body's cells and is also essential in generating electricity for the brain and muscles to function and regulating the heartbeat to decrease the possibility of irregular heartbeats.

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    Our bones store calcium in the body. The hormone calcitonin promotes bone growth and decreases the blood's calcium levels. Parathyroid hormone does the opposite. Calcium binds to the proteins in the bloodstream and is required for the formation of teeth and bone, blood clotting, muscle function, normal heart rhythm, and more.

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    Bicarbonate is a component that keeps the acid-base status of the body in balance.  Chlorine, magnesium, and phosphate are also electrolytes.

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    Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance

    Some medicines, dehydration, diarrhea, sweating, vomiting, over-exercising, heat exposure, or disorders of kidneys, heart, or liver can cause that to happen. An electrolyte imbalance must be treated to avoid dizziness, cramps, irregular heartbeat, and possibly death.

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    Where They're Found

    Eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods normally keeps a person from developing a nutritional disorder or a major mineral deficiency. Vegetarians, for example, are at risk for iron deficiency.

    Sodium is found in salt, beef, pork, cheese, sardines, nuts, sauerkraut, green olives, butter or margarine, canned and processed foods, etc. However, high blood pressure and other conditions require you to limit your sodium.

    Potassium is in milk and other dairy products, meats, nuts, tomatoes, bananas, oranges, melons, potatoes, prunes, spinach and other leafy greens, beans, etc.

    Calcium is also in milk as well as fish eaten with bones (example: sardines), eggs, fortified products, fruits, vegetables, beans, etc.

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    Supplements & Drinks

    Consuming large amounts of mineral supplements may have harmful toxic effects, and the dosage should be regulated by your physician.

    There have been many sports drinks developed over the years, and the brand new one is NASA's The Right Stuff, which is promoted as what the astronauts drink. It is said to deliver 20% more endurance than other sports drinks from its particular isotonic concentration of electrolytes and carbohydrates.

    People with certain medical problems such as diabetes, though, have to be aware of the amount of sugar in most of these drinks. Pediatricians do not recommend sports drinks for sick children because of high sugar concentration, and they recommend Pedialyte instead.