electrolytes, Dr Dale Peterson, sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, sulfate

Ask the Doc: Electrolytes

Ask the Doc: Electrolytes

2011 Dr. Dale Peterson & drdalepeterson.com

What are electrolytes and why are they important in the body? K.M.

Dear K.M.: Electrolytes are electrically charged atoms (ions) that form salts. For example, table salt is made up of positively charged sodium ions (Na+) and negatively charged chloride ions (Cl-). Our body fluids, which include blood plasma and interstitial fluid (fluid between the cells in our tissues), are like seawater; they contain various salts. The major electrolytes in the body are sodium (Na+), chloride (Cl-), potassium (K+), bicarbonate (HCO3-), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), phosphate (PO42-), and sulfate (SO42-).

Electrolytes are important because they are responsible for maintaining the electrical activity within the body. Without electrolytes we would be unable to move because muscles would be unable to contract and relax. If electrolytes were not present, messages could not be carried to and from the brain, and communication within the brain would come to a standstill. Electrolytes are also involved in nearly all chemical reactions within the body. Without electrolytes, life could not exist.

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