During the heat, when you’re exercising, etc., people will say “Drink plenty of water!” or, “Stay hydrated!” Is there a difference between the two? The answer is a resounding “Yes!!”

Although life is not possible without water and the human body is made up of 80% water, there IS such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” Without a proper balance of electrolytes, particularly sodium, you can develop water intoxication, or hyponatremia, which means too much water and not enough sodium. That can cause your blood pressure to drop to coma levels and immediate intervention (very similar to an adrenal crisis).

One of sodium’s jobs is to balance the fluids in and around your cells. Drinking too much water causes an imbalance, and the liquid moves from your blood to inside your cells, making them swell. If the swelling were to be inside the brain, immediate treatment would be required.

This explains how people can drink plenty of water, become bloated, and still be dehydrated – not enough electrolytes.

Infants, children, elderly and those with chronic illnesses (especially ones affecting endocrine and blood pressure issues) are particularly prone to water intoxication. This is one of the reasons many pediatricians advise infants to drink only breast milk or formula, because their systems are not yet ready for large amounts of water. Moreoever, there have been cases of accidental deaths to teenagers and young adults during high school and college hazing rituals and from sports coaches requiring athletes to drink a lot of water during hot weather practices.

Salt is just as important to the body as water. It plays a major role in health, and feeds nutritional mineral elements to our cells, sanitizes and cleanses toxic waste from our system, and keeps water levels properly maintained in the body. It also is responsible for the balance of acids and bases in the body, and provides the movement of electrical currents to all muscles and cells. Without the proper electrical current, you will have trouble with muscles, nerves, cells operating correctly, and many other issues. Stress or infection demand an extra supply of salt, and our salt reserves can be depleted when sick or injured, or even over-stressed.

In nature, sodium chloride (salt) never occurs in pure form. A multitude of essential major and trace elements are in its crystals. Here is a partial list of these minerals and their function in human metabolism:

(Sodium: Essential to digestion and metabolism, regulates body fluids, nerve and muscular functions)

Chlorine: Essential component of body fluids

Calcium: Needed for bone mineralization

Magnesium: Dissipates sodium excess, forms and hardens bones, ensures mental development and sharpens intelligence, promotes assimilation of arbohydrates, assures metabolism of Vitamin C and Calcium, retards the aging process and dissolves kidney stones.

Sulfur: Controls energy transfer in tissue, bone and cartilage cells, essential for protein compounds.

Silicon: Needed in carbon metabolism and for skin and hair balance.

Iodine: Vital for energy production and mental development, ensures production of thyroid hormones, needed for auto-defense mechanism (lymphatic system)

Bromine: In magnesium bromide form, a nervous system regulator and restorer, vital for pituitary hormonal function

Phosphorous: Essential for biochemical synthesis and nerve cell functions related to the brain, constituent of phosphoproteins, nucleoproteins and phospholipids

Vanadium: Of greater value for tooth bone calcification than fluorine, tones cardiac and nervous systems, reduces cholesterol, regulates phospholipids in blood, a catalyst for oxidation of many biological substances

Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electrical charge. Some are positives, some are negatives, and both are needed to not only carry the electrical charges, but to move water and fluids THROUGH the cells, and not just have them sit and make you bloated, and not reach the cells that need them. This is called Third Spacing, and you can actually become dehydrated even though your body is full of fluids.

Electrolytes affect the amount of water in your body, the acidity of your blood, your muscle function, and other important processes. You lose electrolytes when you sweat, and you must replace them by drinking fluids that contain electrolytes. Water does not contain electrolytes.

Common electrolytes include:
Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium and Sodium.
Electrolytes can be acids, bases and salts (not all salts are sodium.)
Symptoms of water intoxication are very similar to a heatstroke and include being hot, having a headache, nausea and diarrhea. If you don’t get help right away, the condition can quickly lead to swelling in the brain, seizures and coma. Get to the emergency room as soon as possible, where doctors can inject concentrated salt water to ease swelling and reverse the problems.
If you plan on drinking large amounts of water, make sure you have enough sodium, and/or electrolytes. Be cautious with many commercial waters which state they are fortified with electrolytes. Some do NOT include sodium, the ONE electrolyte that is necessary to balance the water! Be sure you look for sodium. Electrolytes are available in drinks such as Powerade and Gatorade (make sure you get the sugar free varieties!) and there are also numerous electrolyte tablets, powders and drops available. You can find them at many grocers, drug stores, health food stores, and naturopath/chiropractic clinics. Use them once a day, but you’ll know if you’ve overdone it…. You will probably get diarrhea, and your blood pressure could go up. If you are in the heat and drinking lots of water and begin to feel sick and dizzy, you probably need electrolytes.

Those with heart issues that stem from the Renin-Angiotensin system, or adrenal issues with low aldosterone need to be particularly careful with balancing water and salt, as aldosterone is the hormone in the body that balances the distribution of both and maintains the proper balance, with our without heat or exhaustion, but on a minute-by-minute basis.

What types of salt are recommended: Himalayan Pink, Fleur de Sel, Celtic and Grey Sea Salt. In case of sudden symptoms of salt depletion, pickle juice is a good fast drink.

What forms of electrolytes are recommended: Powders, tablets (some are flavored!) and drops, salt tablets, and emergency electrolyte packets made for camping and first aid kits.

If you are having electrolyte deficiency issues, be careful with teas and foods that are diuretics. Diuretics cause you to lose lots of fluids through urination. These include caffeinated drinks, watermelon, celery and many other foods. If you take a prescription diuretic due to Congestive Heart Failure or other illness, please make sure you have adequate electrolytes.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa C. Baker, CNC, RNHP, is a certified Nutritional Counselor, and also holds a certificate in Complementary and Integrative Health. She is a member of the American Nutritional Association, the International Association of Natural Health Practitioners, International Institute for Complementary Therapists, and is a Registered Natural Health Practitioner by the IANHP.

Mrs. Baker is a musician and recording artist, a mother of one, and resides in Muskogee, Oklahoma with her husband and their kitties.