Electrolytes – What are they?

The relevance of electrolytes to us as humans is that they are healthy salts required for just about everything our body chemistry does. They include ions of calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride.

Have you ever had the experience of drinking lots of water and not being able to quench your thirst, especially in a heat wave or when doing hard labour or exercise? In this case serious dehydration has already occurred; electrolytes have become deficient and the body has not been able to use the electrolytes to hold water in your body. Consequently you may notice yourself ‘peeing’ a lot!

The marathon runner, who drops dead in the middle of a race, in the prime of their life without cardio-disease, is electrolyte deficient. The heart is a muscle too and is prone to ‘cramp’ just like other muscles, if electrolyte deficiency occurs.

We’ve all heard someone say “Cramp – that’s salt deficiency”. Salt (NaCl) used to be prescribed for cramp, but the truth of it is, that cramp is about SALTS deficiency  and Magnesium is the main player. Muscle cramps occur when a muscle clamps down in the contracted position because it ran out of one of the following three things:

  1. Oxygen – due to cardiac or lung problems or iron deficiency or other anaemias
  2. Fuel – such as glucose/amino acids or fatty acids
  3. Electrolytes – especially Magnesium

When you get that disconcerting eye tic, it is generally a good way of diagnosing that you are Magnesium deficient. It only happens when one is very low in this mineral, often during stressful times, because magnesium is lost rapidly via your urine during stress – along with zinc and B6.

Correct doses of Magnesium will usually fix cramps in 3 – 5 days. Interestingly, in London one hospital began using I. V. Magnesium drips with women in labour who failed to dilate, discovering that labour resumed fairly promptly. This makes sense when we think about it,  because the uterus and cervix are a large muscle and will cramp if it runs out of Magnesium. Some health conditions exclude electrolyte supplementation, so please seek professional advice before self-administering.