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Autism Coach

Electrolytes - What They Are and Why They Are Important

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What is an Electrolyte?
Electrolytes are substances that get a positive or negative electrical charge when dissolved in a liquid, such as water.

Electrolytes are fundamental to good health. The involve the generation of electricity to contract muscles and move water and fluids in and out of cells in the body.  They maintain the voltage across cell membranes of neurons, heart and muscle cells which carry electrical impulses such as nerve impulses, muscle contractions and cell-to-cell communication.
  • Out of these electrolytes, potassium, sodium and chloride ions are most essential electrolytes.
  • They are also found in our daily diet like potassium is found in banana, spinach, and cantelope.
  • The imbalance of electrolytes in body can be responsible for many disorders. Like low concentration of potassium creates muscles cramps and weakness.
  • Sodium and chloride ions are mainly provided by table salt that is sodium chloride. Sodium ion is mainly found in plasma fluid outside of cells.
  • It regulates the total amount of water in the body and the transmission of sodium into and out of individual cells also plays an important role in critical body functions.

Electrolytes transmit millions of messages per second through the nervous system. Electrolytes aid in brain, heart and nerve function as well as muscle control and coordination.   They are crucial for cellular function. The body’s ability to absorb fluids depends on a healthy balance of electrolytes. Drinks containing electrolytes such as Electrolyte Liquid Concentrate or Well Water can quickly and naturally restore electrolytes.

Electrolyte Depletion

Electrolytes can be depleted due to:
Aerobic exercise, you loose a lot of electrolytes through sweat. 
Illness such as the flu that cause rapid loss of fluids through vomiting or diarrhea.
Chronic illness that involve intestinal inflammation, such as autism.
Without a proper balance between fluids and electrolytes our health will decline.  Severe imbalances can even be fatal. Individuals on the autism spectrum tend to be depleted in electrolytes due to chronic intestinal issues which can effect energy, mood and appetite.  Balancing electrolytes can not only restore hydration but sooth the digestive tract, improving digestion, and sometimes even contributing to individuals who are "picky eaters" expanding their choice of foods.  A severe depletion of electrolytes can lead to a seizure or heart attack.
Other conditions that disrupt electrolyte balance include illnesses that cause fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, and individuals with eating disorders (where the cause of death is often electrolyte depletion which triggers heart failure), and physical exertion and exercise (it's very important take in electrolytes during exercise and other strenuous activites - especially in hot weather when sweating can further deplete electrolytes). Other causes of electrolyte depletion are prescription drugs such as diuretics, caffeine (including coffee and caffeinated soft drinks), excessive perspiration, extreme exercise, and inadequate fluid consumption.  
Symptoms of Dehydration
Symptoms of early or mild dehydration include:

•  flushed face
•  extreme thirst, more than normal or unable to drink
•  dry, warm skin
•  cannot pass urine or reduced amounts, dark, yellow
•  dizziness made worse when you are standing
•  weakness
•  cramping in the arms and legs
•  crying with few or no tears
•  sleepy or irritable
•  unwell
•  headaches
•  dry mouth, dry tongue; with thick saliva.
•  in severe dehydration, these effects become more pronounced
 Symptoms of moderate to severe dehydration include:

•  low blood pressure
•  fainting
•  severe muscle contractions in the arms, legs, stomach, and back
•  convulsions
•  a bloated stomach
•  heart failure
•  sunken fontanelle - soft spot on a infants head
•  sunken dry eyes, with few or no tears
•  skin loses its firmness and looks wrinkled
•  lack of elasticity of the skin (when a bit of skin lifted up stays folded and takes a
   long time to go back to its normal position)
•  rapid and deep breathing - faster than normal
•  fast, weak pulse

Mild to moderate dehydration in adults can be corrected by drinking liquids, especially those that effectively restore electrolytes.
How Electrolytes Power our Muscles
All body motion is controlled by the opening and closing of ion channels that sit in the membranes of all cells. Sodium contracts the cell and potassium relaxes it. Similar action occurs to transmit a thought with sodium and potassium triggering neurons (depolarizing) to both transmit and fire. In effect the electrolytes do it all. You can’t blink your eye or even see or hear without them.
The green ball and black chain in the diagram above represents the portion of the protein in the channel that is in the membrane of a neuron that enables ions to pass through or prevents them from passing through.  When the neuron is stimulated the channel opens, generally only for a fraction of a second, and then becomes inactive and resistant to opening for a brief period of time.
A heart cell begins the process with calcium signaling the sodium ion channel to open to begin the contraction cycle. There are hundreds of sodium and potassium ion channels on each cell. A half second later magnesium encourages potassium to rush in which relaxes the cell. That’s the beat of your heart or the closing of your fist. With a heart cell the cycle is non stop; constrict with sodium and relax with potassium. Its quite easy to see what happens when a muscle cramps. In essence you have half a beat. If a cramp hits the heart, it triggers a heart attack, but in a different muscle it will hurt, but it is not life-threatening. If you’re swimming in a race half way home, it could be a disaster. Whenever it happens, it’s the guys in charge of the relaxing half of the cycle, magnesium and potassium, that are missing.

For athletes, consuming an electrolyte drink just as tingling begins in muscles can prevent a tightening muscle, leading to a muscle cramp.  Athletes also use it to increase endurance. 
Actually, what is happening, is that the high potassium concentration is sufficient to complete the back side of the heart beat, or leg pump, etc. Without those 2 electrolytes magnesium and potassium, in plentiful supply, your muscles have only the first half of the action potential to work on. Over time, that’s a one way street, that can end up as a cramp. Cramps don’t usually occur when your doing sprints, they are the result of cellular stress (loss of electrolytes) over long workouts.
Dehydration in Children and Older Adults
As we age the water level in our bodies decrease making us more prone to dehydration. You can suffer from dehydration without realizing it.  Older people are particularly susceptible to dehydration without being aware of what is happening. Older people have 60% water content in their bodies as opposed to 70% water content in younger people. Elderly people also have a lower thirst response, which, when combined with other aging factors, such as swallowing difficulties, poor food intake, laxative use, and even resisting fluids due to anxiety associated with incontinence, can contribute to a state of dehydration without the individual being aware of it.  
As we age, our kidneys allow glucose and sodium to escape along with necessary fluids to stay healthy.  This also causes an increased chance of dehydration. Dehydration may also contribute to some conditions that are associated with aging, such as confusion, lethargy, low urine input, to name a few. 
Infants and young children are also at risk of electrolyte imbalance whenever they lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhea because of illness.
The body’s ability to absorb fluids all depends on a healthy balance of electrolytes.  Balance is the ultimate goal.