|Comic from NatalieDee.com|
Why are electrolytes so important?
Electrolytes are key components in hydration and cell function within our bodies. An article by Dr. Lynne August explains that our cells act as batteries within our body and electrolytes are what recharge these batteries. (1) When these batteries aren't able to work at their full capacity, it can cause or exacerbate issues with irregular heart rate, dizziness, muscle contractions and fatigue, just to name a few.
POTS patients tend to be more prone to electrolyte imbalances and depletion. For one, many of us suffer from low blood volume (hypovalemia) and/or blood pooling, which is a contributing factor in low blood pressure and tachycardia. The true marker of a POTSie diet -- increased salt intake -- is meant to help increase our blood volume and blood pressure. In addition, the salt helps us hydrate as too much water, without taking in salt and other electrolytes, will flush the body of its electrolytes and cause further dehydration.
This is where the Gatorade, Pedialyte and Nuun recommendations come in. I used to drink 32 ounces of Gatorade a day, but the amount of sugar I was consuming just through sports drinks always made me uncomfortable. I kept reading that refined sugar was bad for your nervous system, which made me fear I was taking one step forward and two steps back. When I shared these concerns with my PCP, she agreed, but didn't know what alternatives to offer since I didn't feel I could survive the day without Gatorade. This is where my ND stepped in to help me find those solutions.
What are the primary electrolytes?
When we think of electrolytes sodium and potassium usually come to mind since they are prominent in sports drinks. In addition to sodium and potassium, the other four primary electrolytes in the body are magnesium, chloride, phosphate and sulfate.
Instead of table salt, I am now using sea salt exclusively. Sea salt not only provides you with your sodium needs, but it is less processed or unprocessed (depending on the source) and doesn't include the additives of table salt. As a result, sea salt contains trace minerals -- including traces of the primary electrolytes. Even though the type of salt I am using has changed, my use of it has not. I still generously salt everything I eat.
Personally, I have been using Celtic Sea Salt at my doctor's recommendation.* This brand has no additives and is unrefined and unprocessed. I really like the flavor it provides. While it is pricier than standard-issue table salt, a one-pound bag will last me at least four months.
Obviously, even if you choose to forgo sports drinks, you will want to make sure you drink more than just plain water to help maintain and replenish your electrolyte balance. Sometimes I simply add a pinch of salt to my water bottle. In addition, Emergen-C is a good way to add electrolytes to your water. My doctor has me using Emergen-C MSM Lite* to keep the sugar intake low. Aside from providing three of the six primary electrolytes, it also gives me my daily vitamin C for immune support and B vitamins for proper metabolism and energy.
As POTSies, we talk a lot of about sodium, but I have found magnesium to be a very important electrolyte for me. When I first got sick, I went to my PCP, and she ran a full workup to see what she could find before deciding which type of specialist I should try to see. Based on my bloodwork, she suggested I take vitamin D and magnesium supplements. In the beginning my muscle twitches, tremors and tachycardia were constant. I was not diagnosed or on prescription medications, but I would notice if I was extra shaky or my tachycardia was out of control, my system would calm down to more bearable levels shortly after taking 250 mg of magnesium.
According to an article by Dr. Christiane Northrup, magnesium is essential for over 300 enzymes in the body which work to "produce, transport, store, and utilize energy". Some of these functions include protein synthesis and vascular, nerve and muscle health. (2)
Supplementing by taking magnesium orally is one option, and something I still do from time to time when I am extra "shaky". If, with your doctor's support, you are supplementing with magnesium, it is best to take smaller doses at different times of day as magnesium can have a laxative effect in large doses. For daily therapeutic effect, I soak my feet in an epsom salt bath. (I will do a separate post all about epsom salt later this week.)
Making a point to support your body's electrolyte balance may not be a cure for POTS or other chronic conditions, but an imbalance can certainly contribute to your symptoms and feeling unwell. As Dr. Lynne August said, "Use a chronic condition as an indicator light on your dash -- it's time to cultivate health, starting with charging your cell batteries." (1)
And since the "Electric Slide" has been running through my head the entire time I was writing this...
(1) HYDRATE..., by Dr. Lynne August
(2) The Magic of Magnesium: A Might Mineral Essential to Health, By: Christiane Northrup, MD
* These products are mentioned based on personal experience. I have not received compensation to include these brands in my post.