Electrolytes

I love electrolytes. Anytime the word “electro” can be worked into a nutrition term, then I’m a fan. Hell, I’ll eat and drink more electrolytes just because the name is cool. But electrolytes, like antioxidants, are more than a sexy nutrition term.

Electrolytes are minerals with electrical powers. They use their electricity to send communication signals throughout the body to enable muscle function, nerve function, and maintain our body’s water balance. If we didn’t have them, we’d have a power outage and our body would shut down. If our body is a factory, and vitamins and minerals are its workers, then electrolytes are our electric, communications, and water companies.

There are four main electrolytes. The two big ones are sodium and potassium, but there’s also magnesium and calcium. Here is what they do (in the simplest terms):

Muscle Function

When muscles flex and the heart beats, electrolytes move in and of the muscle to make sure it functions properly. When a neuron signals a muscle to flex, sodium zips into the muscle cell and potassium zaps out. When your muscle relaxes, this process is reversed. If we don’t have a balanced supply of sodium and potassium, then communications will be disrupted and our muscles will cramp and our heart will beat irregularly. Sodium and potassium work similarly in nerve cells too. They move inside and outside our neurons to regulate their electrical charge as they move throughout our body transmitting communications from the brain.

In muscle a similar process occurs with magnesium and calcium. When your bicep flexes, calcium zips into the muscle cells and helps the muscle fibers contract. When a muscle relaxes, calcium zaps back out. Magnesium is calcium’s counterpart in this process. When your muscles are relaxed, magnesium is active inside your muscles. But when you show off your bicep or your sexy calves, calcium pushes magnesium out of the way and takes over the job. Electrolytes are constantly moving inside and outside our cells.

To learn more about calcium, read about how calcium works with vitamin D in our body’s Bones and Teeth Division.

Water Balance

Our body is about 60 percent water. We’re essentially a walking water balloon held together with skin. Sodium and potassium work together to balance the water equally inside our body. Sodium attracts and binds to water. It’s often considered the bad guy, kind of like Magneto of the X-men, because similar to how he can attract and control metal, sodium can do the same with water. Too much sodium in the diet will increase water flow to the outside of our cells, making us feel as bloated as the Goodyear blimp. This can lead an increase in blood pressure, which puts extra strain on the heart. But potassium, on the other hand, is like Professor X, in that he works to counter some of the bad effects of sodium and bring water back into your cells. If potassium is not in good supply, then Magneto wins.

Your kidneys are the control center. They regulate how much water, sodium, and potassium is in your body. All the extra stuff you don’t need, you piss away. But over time, if your diet is high in sodium, and you get high blood pressure, the kidneys could become damaged (leading to kidney failure). Then water and electrolytes will become severely imbalanced. Blood pressure will shoot through the roof, then you’ll get heart disease. This is why a diet rich in sodium isn’t something you want.

Diet

It’s important to consume an adequate amount of fluids and electrolytes. The average American eats about one and a half times the amount of sodium they need in a day–too many chips and cheeseburgers–especially since the majority of the country is inactive and never sweats. Olympic athletes might need the extra sodium, but Joe Blow who binge watches Netflix doesn’t. Aim for 2,300 milligrams per day.

Americans, conversely, don’t get enough potassium in the diet. So eat more bananas, milk, vegetable juice, and potatoes. Potassium is now listed on the nutrition facts label, so it’s much easier to keep track. Shoot for 4,700 milligrams per day.

Drink more fluids too. The more you pee every day the better. In general, males need roughly 13 cups of fluids a day and females need about nine cups.

Keeping Your Foundation Strong. A Message from Vitamin D.

Dear humans,

Hello, my name is Deon. You may know me by my Earth name: Vitamin D. With winter upon us, I thought it necessary to provide you with critical information.

First, I ask that you keep this message confidential. The Academy of Nutrients, Vitamins And Minerals (ANVAM) has made me swear not to reveal my true identity—that I’m one of many sentient nano beings employed to work inside the human body to ensure it functions properly.

I work closely with my friends, Cali and Phred (you know them as Calcium and Phosphorus) to keep your bones and teeth healthy. I also do some work on the side to keep your immune system and genes healthy, but for the sake of this discussion, my primary job is in the Bones and Teeth Division. 

I don’t live inside your body, I just work there. I travel via pills, food, or on a beam of ultraviolet light. I prefer light travel—it’s fast, efficient, and I enter through your skin in a greater capacity. Food is a much slower vehicle, and humans rarely ingest me because I’m found in disgusting foods like sardines and cod liver oil. However, for the past ninety years, food scientists on Earth have been fortifying me in milk and cereal, so many humans onboard me during their breakfast.

When I travel to your body I’m always in hypersleep, which means I’m dormant upon arrival. I must be transported to the liver or kidneys to be activated. There my work shift begins!

My job classification is a Regulator. Along with my supervisor, Paul Thomas Harold (aka Parathyroid Hormone), we make sure Cali and Phred are in the right place and in correct balance so your bones and teeth work at optimal efficiency. I’m the only member of ANVAM that possesses the magic keys that will unlock the doors to bones and small intestines, which is where Cali and Phred are absorbed and begin their work shift. I especially need to keep an eye on Cali. She’ll sometimes get lost or try to leave work before her shift is over, so I make sure she doesn’t hop aboard a pool of your urine and exit the body. Losing too much of her could lead to weak bones.

Sometimes, if you don’t eat the right foods or see enough sunlight, I’m unable to report to work. This is especially common during the winter months in Earth’s northern regions (and the reason I’m sending this message). When this happens, Cali and Phred are on their own, gathering outside your bones and small intestines waiting for my magic keys. But since I’m not there, they can’t do their job. Potentially, this could lead to an outbreak of osteomalacia or rickets—and your bone foundation might deteriorate like a house whose structure has been digested by termites. Not fun.

So this winter, make sure you eat vitamin D-fortified foods or take supplements. I put in a lot of hours taking care of you; I’d hate to see your bones slowly crumble into a pile of dust.

Happy new year!

-Deon

Deon Dihydroxy III
Regulatory Communications Officer
Bones and Teeth Division
Academy of Nutrients, Vitamins, and Minerals