Electrolyte Imbalance 101 For the Knowledge Thirsty

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What’s the first thing your little athletes go for after a straight 30-minute sprint in 90-degree Texas weather? Just like a commercial ad, they reach for their Gatorade (or Powerade), guzzle it down, and breathe a sigh of relief. Gatorade was created in 1965 when a head football coach from University of Florida sought to address the effects of electrolyte imbalance in his football players. The drink would replace the body fluids that his athletes lost during physical exertion. Needless to say, the drink full of these invisible things, called “electrolytes,” was a success. And Gatorade is now a go-to source of replenishment for 75% of American families whose children play some type of sport. Go Gators!

So we know Gatorade helps those with too little electrolytes in their system, but is it possible to over-consume them? Is there such a thing as an electrolyte imbalance from consuming too many electrolytes? Let’s take a look.

Electrolyte Imbalance: Too Much of a Good Thing?

What is an electrolyte exactly? An electrolyte is a positively or negatively charged ion that creates an electrically conducting solution when dissolved in water. Electrolytes provide a charge that is essential for life and human survival, and have to be maintained in proper concentrations in the body. The most important electrolytes for body replenishment are potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium. Because these are vitamins, it’s easy for parents and kids to think they can have a lot of it. But just like anything, too many electrolytes can be unhealthy:

    • Too much sodium, formally referred to as hypernatremia, can cause dizziness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
    • Too much potassium, known as hyperkalemia, can impact your kidney function and cause heart arrhythmia, nausea, and an irregular pulse.
    • Too much calcium, known as hypercalcemia, can lead to fatigue, lethargy, seizures, and bone and joint pain.
    • Too much magnesium can cause muscle weakness, nausea, dizziness, confusion, and heart arrhythmia. At its worst, it can cause muscular and neurological damage.

How to Prevent Electrolyte Imbalance

Teach your kids that water is still the best source of hydration. During high-activity practices and games, they should work in some water with their sports drinks. For an alternative to sports drinks, fruits and vegetables are rich in electrolytes and have much less sugar. The rule of thumb is that if you are doing endurance physical activities, like long distance running, Gatorade or Powerade is in order. But if your kids are just playing a one-hour game or activity, vegetables and water do the job and eliminate any concern of vitamin toxicity.

→ Want to learn how to spot heat exhaustion, a broken ankle, or how to keep your kids out of the ER? Visit our blog or get to know our doctors at HHER in Tyler and Longview, Texas.