What are electrolytes?

electrolyte are charged minerals. They play a vital role in the human body, affecting everything from heartbeats to muscle contractions. Electrolyte levels that are too high or too low can cause health problems.

This article discusses the role of electrolytes in health, electrolyte imbalance, and replenishment.

What are electrolytes?

At the molecular level, electrolytes are chemicals that have a positive or negative charge when dissolved in water. Therefore, they can conduct electricity. When insoluble, the electrolyte exists as a salt with a neutral charge.

Electrolytes are obtained in the diet through a variety of foods. Most water is not chemically pure and contains trace amounts of electrolytes.

Important Bodily Functions for Electrolyte Maintenance

Electrolytes are involved in almost everything your body does. They are present in plasma and inside cells and help stabilize cell membranes.

Electrolytes also maintain protein structure and fluid balance. Electrolytes play a role in chemical reactions in the body, and they help move substances in and out of cells.

Some body processes that rely on electrolytes include:

  • Conduction of the heartbeat and contraction of the myocardium
  • dilation and constriction of blood vessels
  • conduction of nerve impulses
  • muscle contraction
  • kidney filtration
  • Gastrointestinal motility
  • maintain proper hydration
  • Maintain internal pH (maintain proper acid-base balance)

Human Electrolyte List

The following electrolytes have important roles in the body:

  • sodium
  • Potassium
  • chloride
  • magnesium
  • calcium
  • phosphorus

Electrolyte imbalance

The body maintains optimal levels of electrolytes by regulating absorption in the gastrointestinal tract and excretion in urine and feces. Problems with electrolyte intake, absorption, or excretion can lead to imbalances that can lead to a range of symptoms.

Electrolyte levels can be measured with a simple blood test. High levels of electrolyte are indicated by the prefix “hyper”. E.g, Hypercalcemia Means increased calcium levels in the blood.The prefix “hypo” indicates low electrolyte levels, so Hypokalemia Means low levels of potassium in the blood.

Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance

Electrolyte levels can be too high or too low for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Low intake: A nutrient-deficient diet can lead to electrolyte deficiencies.
  • Fluid loss: Diarrhea and vomiting can cause low electrolyte levels.
  • Certain medicines: diuretics Can cause loss of electrolytes in urine and feces.
  • Kidney disease: The kidneys play an important role in managing electrolyte levels, and levels can be affected by kidney disease.
  • High acidity in the blood: trying to make up for it acidosis (too much acid in body fluids) kidney reabsorption Bicarbonates.

Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalance

The symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance depend on which electrolytes are affected and how high or low the levels are. Some of the more common electrolyte imbalances are discussed below.

Sodium Imbalance

hyponatremia, or low sodium levels in the blood, are the most common electrolyte disturbances. It can have many reasons, including:

  • dehydration or overhydration
  • heart failure
  • kidney problems
  • liver disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • drug

Hyponatremia can cause swelling of the brain. Symptoms of hyponatremia include:

  • fatigue
  • Puzzled
  • If severe, overreaction
  • If severe, seizures

Hypernatremia Refers to high levels of sodium in the blood. Most of the time, high sodium levels appear in older adults who don’t drink enough water. Babies may also be affected. Symptoms include dry mouth, thirst, fatigue, agitation and confusion.

Potassium Imbalance

Hypokalemia, or low levels of potassium in the blood, which can occur when fluid is lost, when intake is low, or when potassium is transferred within cells. There can be several reasons for this transition, including high blood pH (alkalosis) in blood and certain medicines.

Diuretics are a common cause of hypokalemia. Hypokalemia can cause:

  • muscle cramps or weakness
  • Constipation (difficulty having a bowel movement)
  • Arrhythmia (irregular or abnormal heart rhythm)

Elevated potassium levels are a common problem in people with kidney disease and can occur with low blood pH (acidosis) and medication. ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor), a commonly used antihypertensive drug, can cause hyperkalemia.

Elevated potassium may not cause any symptoms, but it can cause serious arrhythmias.

calcium imbalance

hypocalcemia may be due to low levels of parathyroid glands Hormones, vitamin D deficiency, and certain medications. Symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • numbness and tingling
  • muscle spasms
  • Arrhythmia
  • Seizures (when severe)

Hypercalcemia usually by Hyperparathyroidismthe parathyroid glands secrete too much parathyroid hormone (excreted from four glands in the neck, behind the thyroid).

Cancer is another common cause of high calcium levels. Symptoms include:

  • constipation and nausea
  • kidney stones
  • frequent urination
  • bone pain
  • Puzzled

Magnesium Imbalance

hypomagnesemia Causes include common medications such as diuretics, laxatives, and stomach acid-lowering medications called proton pump inhibitors. Symptoms are similar to other electrolyte disturbances, such as fatigue and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Hypermagnesemia Less common, usually occurs in people with kidney disease who take magnesium-containing medicines. Symptoms include:

  • weakness
  • exaggerated reaction
  • low blood pressure
  • muscle weakness
  • abnormal heart rhythm

Monitor and manage electrolyte imbalances


Not everyone needs to monitor electrolytes, but if you have certain conditions or take certain medications, your healthcare provider can monitor electrolyte levels with a simple blood test.

Electrolyte test

The basal metabolome includes sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, and calcium. Magnesium and phosphorus can also be measured by separate blood tests.

Treatment overview

Treatment should focus on correcting the underlying cause of electrolyte disturbances. Supplementation may be required to manage low electrolyte levels. Treatment includes:

  • Oral rehydration therapy is a special liquid preparation that contains electrolytes and sugar. It may help in cases where dehydration causes too much electrolyte loss. Pedialyte is an example of an oral rehydration therapy that can be purchased at a pharmacy.
  • Electrolyte replacement therapy may also be given to supplement. Some electrolyte supplements, such as those containing magnesium and calcium, are available over the counter without a prescription. Others, such as potassium chloride, require a prescription.


For most people, all it takes to maintain electrolyte balance is a varied diet and staying hydrated.

People with kidney disease who are prone to elevated electrolyte levels (such as potassium and phosphate) should follow a special diet that restricts these nutrients. They may also need medications called phosphate binders.

Those who experience significant electrolyte loss from gastrointestinal fluid loss or excessive sweating during strenuous exercise should take care to stay hydrated and drink beverages that contain electrolytes. Be aware of the high sugar content in most beverages sold for this purpose.

Electrolyte source

foods with electrolytes

Some healthy sources of electrolytes include:

  • Fruits like bananas, watermelons, and lemons
  • green leafy vegetables and vegetables like avocado
  • whole grains
  • Nuts and Legumes

Beverages with Electrolytes

Beverages that contain electrolytes include:

  • Coconut water
  • milk
  • Juices and Smoothies

Commercially available sports drinks

Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade also contain electrolytes and are designed to be replaced by athletes who lose too much electrolyte through sweating. However, these drinks often contain a lot of sugar.

recommended intake

According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines, recommended intakes for various electrolytes are shown below. Note that ranges are given and exact recommendations depend on age and gender.

  • Potassium: 2,600–3,400 mg
  • Sodium: 2,300 mg (note the American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg per day)
  • Phosphorus: 700 mg
  • Calcium: 1,000–1,200 mg
  • Magnesium: 310–420 mg

Should I supplement my diet with electrolytes?

Most people don’t need electrolyte supplements. By eating a nutritious diet and staying well hydrated, you should get enough electrolytes.

Oral rehydration solutions may be used during periods of excessive fluid loss (through diarrhea, vomiting, or excessive sweating).

People with medical conditions and those taking certain medications that alter electrolyte balance may take electrolyte supplements, but this should always be monitored by a healthcare provider.


Electrolytes are essential for the function of organ systems. Too high or too low levels can cause problems. The best way to maintain normal electrolyte levels is to eat a healthy and varied diet that includes fruits and vegetables, avoid excessive intake of any one food or nutrient, and stay well hydrated.

VigorTip words

Most people don’t need to pay too much attention to electrolyte levels and can maintain healthy levels with a nutritious diet and adequate hydration. Taking electrolyte supplements can be problematic because electrolyte-replenishing beverages are often loaded with sugar. Taking over-the-counter supplements can be unnecessary, expensive, and even lead to side effects of elevated levels. The best way to maintain electrolyte levels is to eat a nutritious diet and stay hydrated.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a good source of electrolytes?

    Electrolytes are found in a variety of foods and beverages. Fruits, colorful vegetables, beans, and nuts are all healthy sources of electrolytes. Beverages like coconut water and fruit smoothies also provide electrolytes.

  • What are the main electrolytes?

    The most important electrolytes that are most abundant in the body are sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, chloride, calcium, phosphate and magnesium.

  • What is the best way to replenish electrolytes?

    Most people have enough electrolytes in their diet. In conditions with severe electrolyte loss, such as gastrointestinal disorders and excessive sweating, electrolytes can be replenished with an oral rehydration solution such as Pedialyte. Be aware that sports drinks contain a lot of electrolytes, but often sugar, which can make diarrhea worse.

  • Does lemon water have electrolytes?

    Lemon water does contain electrolytes and is a good source of potassium. According to the USDA, one lemon juice contains about 48 mg of potassium, 3 mg of calcium, 3 mg of magnesium, 4 mg of phosphorus and less than 1 mg of sodium.

  • Is milk good for electrolytes?

    Milk is a good source of electrolytes. According to the USDA, 1 cup of whole milk contains about 305 mg of calcium, 30 mg of magnesium, 250 mg of phosphorus, 375 mg of potassium, and 95 mg of sodium.

  • Does apple cider vinegar have electrolytes?

    Apple cider vinegar is another good source of potassium. 1 tablespoon of Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar contains 11 mg of potassium.