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What are Electrolytes?

The term "electrolyte" stands for particles that carry a positive or a negative charge. From the nutrition point of view, it refers to essential minerals found in blood, sweat and urine. Electrolytes found in our body include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, bicarbonate, etc. Electrolytes play a significant role in various bodily processes like maintaining proper nerve and muscle function, maintaining a proper pH in the body and keeping us hydrated. In simple words, electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge.

Why do we Need Electrolytes?

We need electrolytes in our body simply because they help facilitate various essential bodily functions like:

  1. Maintenance of the Nervous System

Signals are sent from the central nervous system to different parts of the body through the nerve cells. These signals are called nerve impulses and are generated by the electrical charge of the nerve cell membrane. These changes occur due to electrolytes' movement, particularly sodium, in and out of the membrane. This initiates a chain reaction that helps transfer signals along the length of the nerve cells.

  1. Functioning of Muscles

Calcium is the electrolyte needed for muscle contraction. Muscle fibres slide and pass over each other due to the action of calcium ions, which in turn results in contraction and relaxation of muscle fibres.

  1. Hydration

It is essential to maintain a fluid balance inside and outside of each cell in our body. Water must be kept in the right amounts. Electrolytes, especially sodium, help in maintaining fluid balance through osmosis.

  1. Regulating Internal pH Levels

pH is nothing but the measure of how acidic or basic a substance is, and buffers, weak acids and bases regulate it. A pH of around 7.5 is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Even a slight deviation in the pH levels can make you unwell. The right balance of electrolytes in the body helps in maintaining the right pH level in your body.

Electrolyte imbalances are common but can be fatal in some cases. The main reasons for electrolyte imbalance are dehydration, which may be caused due to excess heat, drinking less water, or diarrhoea. Hence you should always drink adequate water to replace the lost electrolytes in your body.

Extended electrolyte imbalance levels can lead to fatigue, weakness, dizziness, confusion, cramping, etc.

Tests for Electrolytes

Tests for electrolytes in the body are carried out primarily to know the imbalance of a particular electrolyte in the body. They are also carried out when you are prescribed certain medications. An electrolyte test can also figure out the effectiveness of a specific type of treatment in your body.

Fluid and Electrolyte Balance

Electrolyte contains electric charge inside the body usually found inside blood, urine and tissue fluids. Sometimes due to the change in the water level inside the body, the electrolytes' level becomes too high or low. There is a thumb rule for the amount of water you should take; you should lose them through urination or sweating. Due to dehydration or some other mechanism, this balance changes.

Usually, the body fluid has many dissolved chemicals, which may be electrolytes or non-electrolytes. In electrolytes, there are ionic bonds, and in the non-electrolyte, a covalent bond is there.

However, there is a proper balance maintained inside the body because of the flow of electrolytes' movement whenever necessary. To understand this, let's take an example. The concentration or the pH of blood remains the same after taking various acidic or alkaline foods. This is mainly because of the proper balancing of bicarbonate electrolyte.

Electro-Chemical Cell 

These are mainly of three types such as galvanic cell, concentration cell, an electrolytic cell. All these three cells consist of a similar mechanism.

The electrolyte is the conducting medium for electrons' movement between anode and cathode in an aqueous medium. The anode is the medium in contact with the electrolyte and has the capacity to conduct electricity in combination with other chemicals. A cathode is a substance that is rich in protons and has the ability to receive electrons. The conductor is the substance that links between anode and cathode and helps in the current flow mechanism.

Types of Electrolytes

Electrolytes are broadly classified into two types, strong and weak electrolytes. Vital electrolytes ionize entirely in water, i.e. every fraction of the dissolved chemicals breaks into anions and cations. However, we should not assume that the compound completely dissolves in water. It just means that the whole combination that gets dissolved in water is broken into anions and cations. Some examples of vital electrolytes are strong acids, strong bases and salts. Weak electrolytes partially ionize in water. A fraction of the compound dissociates. Examples are weak acids and weak bases.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. Define Electrolytes and Their Importance for Humans?

Ans: Electrolytes are the substances that conduct electricity when dissolved in a polar solvent. The electrolyte that is dissolved in water gets dissolved as cations and anions. Cations are substances deficient in electrons and are positively charged, whereas anions have electron sufficiency and are negatively charged.

Importance: Electrolytes play a vital role in different body mechanisms. It mainly helps in muscle contraction. Electrolytes maintain the pH level of the body. They assist in the maintenance of the hydration level of the body from inside as well as outside. Brain cells mainly function due to the proper coordination of different electrolytes.

Q2. What are the Different Electrolytes Inside the Body?

Ans: Electrolytes are the main components for several body functions. Some of the common electrolytes are Sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate ion. Sodium is an electrolyte that is present outside of the cells. It plays a crucial role in maintaining the water and ionic balance inside the body. Excess of the Na is excreted through Urine. Potassium maintains the heartbeat and helps in muscle function. Chloride is present outside of the body fluid and helps in maintaining fluid balance in the body. Bicarbonate act as a buffer solution and helps in retaining the average pH level of the body. The higher and lower level of electrolytes causes havoc to the body.