To understand the importance of electrolyte balance in the body, you need to know something about physiology.
The human body is made up of about 70 percent water, and the brain is made up of 80 percent water. Water is distributed both inside and outside the trillions of cells in the body.
The water inside cells is referred to as intracellular water. Extracellular water is found outside of the cells.
These two “oceans” are vastly different because they contain different concentrations of electrolytes. One-third of the total body water is extracellular fluid while two-thirds is intracellular.
Eelectrolytes are substances that have an electrical charge. For instance, sodium has a +1 electrical charge and potassium has a -1 electrical charge.
Sodium is the primary electrolyte in the extracellular ocean; potassium is the main electrolyte in the intracellular ocean.
A proper balance between the intracellular and extracellular electrolytes is necessary for all life forms. When there is an imbalance in the intracellular and extracellular electrolytes, problems develop.
How can you tell when you have an optimal distribution of water in the body?
For one thing, edema, or swelling, will occur when there is an imbalance in intracellular and extracellular water.
However, there are many causes of edema other than electrolyte disturbances, such as an ankle sprain. In that case, the swelling of the ankle is caused by torn ligaments and bleeding from the tear.
In a severe allergic case, edema can be the result of histamine release that causes capillaries to leak fluid.
Congestive heart failure patients can develop edema due to an inability of the heart to pump enough blood. The backup of fluids caused by a weak heart can cause edema of the legs.
But one of the most overlooked causes of edema is electrolyte imbalance — specifically, too much sodium in the extracellular fluid.
In these cases, diuretics can help because they cause the kidneys to release more sodium.
However, long-term use of diuretics can lead to sodium deficiency, called hyponatremia. Long-term use of diuretics is also associated with a host of serious side effects such as diabetes, heart attack, mineral deficiencies, and dehydration.
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