Unwanted body fat burdens millions. Countless supplements and diets are created to help us look better and feel our best. Many have committed recently to such a diet, called Keto, and it requires taking supplements. Keto says to eat lots of fat, some protein, and practically zero carbs. For them, it works phenomenally.
But there is a downside, and the downside requires supplementation. A lack of carbs means the body holds less water. True, this improves appearance, but it also makes it harder for the muscles and the nervous system to work. Muscles contract and relax, and nerves send signals by using electrolytes. Well, water kind of gives electrolytes their power. So, if you hold less water, then you will need more electrolytes. They need each other, really. Even if you had enough water you would still need enough electrolytes.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are substances that are necessary for life because they help the water in our bodies make electrical currents, and these electrical currents permit our cells to function. The electrolytes we need are calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and chloride. Too few, or too many electrolytes cause electric currents to be either out of balance or non-existent. A balanced amount of electrolytes helps ensure the body’s operations remain balanced and do not fluctuate wildly, a position called homeostasis.
First, you are going to learn a little about what an electric current is and how one is made. After that, you will learn a bit more about the two most significant electrolytes: sodium and potassium. At the end, you will understand how sodium and potassium help muscle cells and nerve cells operate.
The Making of an Electric Current…
Atoms have negatively charged electrons, positively charged protons, and zero-charged neutrons. Some atoms have more electrons than protons, and some have more protons than electrons. Atoms with more electrons will be negatively charged, whereas atoms with more protons will be positively charged. Atoms with either negative or positive charges are called ions.
Ions can lose or gain enough electrons such that their charges change from negative to positive, or from positive to negative. Ions that lose enough electrons to become positive are called cations. Ions that gain enough electrons to become negative are called anions. It is the unequal charges of positive cations and negative anions can create an electrical current.
Think of cations and anions as new homes that electrons move into when they are lost or gained. These electrons want to go back home. But, there are trillions of homes just like the original they moved away from. If a sufficient number of electrons move away from home–several ions change their charges–then all at once they will want to return to a home just like their original. This grand, collective emigration is an electric current.
An electric current can be made when electrolytes dissolve in water, except this current involves entire ions–anions and cations–moving into massive cities. Water, rich with anions and cations, surrounds and fills human cells. Due to a greater number of anions inside the cell, water inside the cell has slightly more negative charge relative to water outside the cell. When the membrane of a cell opens, the unequally-charged ions inside and outside the cell want to move towards each other. Similar to the transfer of electrons, the movement of these ions creates an electrical current.
Once these anions exit and the cations enter the cell, the charges inside and outside the cell reverse, causing the cell membranes to close. This enables the inside of the cell to return to a more negatively-charged state; again, it has more anions. The process of negative anions and positive cations exiting and entering the cell allows nerve cells to communicate information and muscle cells to contract and relax.
Thus, electrolytes ensure that the water in our bodies can allow unequally-charged atoms to move back-and-forth, creating an electrical current, and enabling nerve and muscle cells to serve their functions. Because water with fewer electrolytes conducts electricity less adequately compared to water with more electrolytes, consuming an insufficient amount of electrolytes (and/or water) will make it more difficult for nerve and muscle cells to function.
…Such as Sodium and Potassium…
Sodium and potassium are so similar in structure and function that it is impossible to talk about the role of one without talking about the role of the other.
Both sodium and potassium are positively charged. But, outside the cell there is normally more sodium than potassium, and inside the cell more potassium than sodium. In this case, there are also more positively charged atoms outside the cell than inside the cell. When a cell opens to allow ions to pass through, sodium goes into the cell and potassium comes out of the cell. This, of course, means the the amount of charge outside and inside the cell changes, causing an electrical current. This current is what makes your heart beat, brain think and muscles contract.
However, this current does not last forever. It ends when a precise amount of sodium leaves the cell relative to the amount of potassium that enters the cell; three sodium ions exiting for every two potassium ions entering. After this exit and entrance, another electric current cannot occur until sufficient sodium re-enters, and sufficient potassium re-exists, the cell. Basically, sodium outside the cell helps it activate, while potassium inside the cell helps it rest. The further away from this 3:2 ratio, the lower the likelihood of a current beginning or ending; a cell activating or resting; a muscle or nerve contracting or relaxing.
This is why an imbalance, or a lack of homeostasis, of sodium and potassium can cause irregular heart rate (see note), difficulty thinking, or sluggishness. If you feel as though your nervous system or muscles are having difficulty activating or contracting, then you might need more sodium or less potassium. If you feel as though they are having a hard time resting or relaxing, then you might need less sodium or more potassium.
…Is Necessary for Life and Good Health
Losing body fat and looking one’s best comes with risks and responsibilities. Committing to Keto carries the risk of electrolyte imbalance and the responsibility of maintaining homeostasis through adequate water intake and electrolyte supplementation. Before participating in any health program, the intelligent approach involves researching and analyzing its pros and cons. Although supplementation with sodium and potassium are necessary for Keto dieters, everyone must monitor their consumption to ensure their bodies are working optimally.
Note: Calcium plays a key role in helping your heart beat. Both sodium and calcium take turns entering heart cells while potassium leaves. This taking of turns helps to ensure that the heart will not run out of the electrolytes that help it contract.
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