Our body is composed of over 70% of fluids; which contains electrolytes i.e. chemicals which, when dissolved in water produce charged ions. These are the ions which are responsible for the flow of signals through the body. They play an important role by regulating osmotic pressure within the cell and by helping in maintenance of functions of muscles and nerve cells. If the electrolyte levels are imbalanced, the organ and cell functions will deteriorate leading to life threatening conditions.
The main electrolytes in the body are sodium, chloride, potassium, bicarbonate, calcium and magnesium. These are the six essential elements and, when dissolved in water they separate into positive and negative ions.
1. Sodium: Sodium ions help in regulation of osmotic pressure and water content within the body. It also plays an important role in transmission of nerve signals and contraction of muscles.
2. Potassium: Potassium ions help in contraction of muscles in the heart and transmission of nerve impulses.
3. Magnesium: Magnesium ions help in formation of bones, teeth, activate enzymes and contraction of muscles.
4. Calcium: Calcium ions help in blood clotting, formation of bones and teeths, contraction of muscles and transmission of nerve impulses.
5. Chloride: Chloride ions regulate osmotic pressure and water content within the body. It also enables secretion of stomach acid.
6. Bicarbonate: Bicarbonate ions help to regulate the body’s acid base balance being a part of the buffer system.
The above context was in terms of modern medicine. The same has been explained by Ayurveda, centuries ago. It has clearly texted the importance of every ion within the body, the need of their maintenance and ways to maintain the same.
1. Sodium and chloride:
Ayurveda describes that salt (NaCl – Sodium Chloride – gives positive ion as sodium and negative ion as chloride) is essential for the growth, maintaining water electrolyte balance and proper digestion by absorption and elimination of wastes. It enhances flexibility of joints, digests natural toxins, clears subtle channels of the body and stimulates appetite. It also replenishes and energizes the entire body by calming nerves and emotions.
Sodium chloride helps to balance Vata dosha and also can imbalance Pitta and Kapha Dosha; which causes premature wrinkles, skin problems, and weakness. Excessive consumption of salt leads to serious health problems as it directly impacts the energy level of the body. Table salt is made up of fire and water elements and thus, regulates moisture content of the body. It also regulates blood pressure. Ayurveda mentions that over intake of a substance or ati of an ingredient causes imbalance in the body. And proper intake of substances promotes healthy and positive emotions which are associated with happiness, calmness, cheerfulness, love and satisfactory feelings of the individual.
Potassium shouldn’t be underestimated as it plays an important role in synthesis of proteins and muscle tissues. It also maintains the pH within the cells and is the electrolyte which carries electrical charge. It helps to maintain blood pressure, proper growth of muscle tissues and its strengthening, metabolic processing of nutrients like carbohydrates and fats, helps in protein synthesis, resolve anxiety and stress levels by regulating hormones, and promotes healthy functioning of kidneys. According to Ayurveda, the foods which are rich in potassium are spinach, parsley, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, beans; fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, avocado, oranges; nuts are also rich in potassium content. Further, herbs like nettle, skullcap, catnip, red clover, sage, horsetail; prove to be rich in potassium content.
Chronic deficiency of potassium leads to muscle weakness, insomnia, regular heart beats, fatigue, bone fragility, and loss of gastrointestinal tone. While balanced potassium leads to harmony within the body.
Magnesium plays an important role in the production of ATP in the body. It is responsible for regulation of 300 biochemical reactions within the body. It is the second most abundant element of cells. It promotes bone health by improving bone density and reduces risk of osteoporosis. It improves the impaired insulin secretion and thus, helps in diabetes. As it maintains a healthy level of lipids in the body, it supports good heart health. Body has to balance other minerals like calcium, sodium and potassium.
Higher levels of magnesium causes kidney damage, impairment of the central nervous system – leading to paralysis. It may also lead to diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps.
Lower level of magnesium causes muscle cramps, dizziness, weakness in body, anxiety, migraines, chest pain, potassium deficiency, etc.
According to Ayurveda, the food sources which are rich in Magnesium are bananas, almonds , black beans, soya milk, avocado, cereals, yogurt, carrot, whole grains, brown rice, milk, etc.
It is the most abundant mineral in the body which ensures the strength and rigidity of the bones. The bones are the store house of calcium. Besides that it plays an important role in enzyme activity especially to ATP. It plays an important role in activity of ions across the membrane and plays a crucial role in nerve transmission, regulating the heartbeat, initiating the process of blood clotting, and muscle activity.
According to Ayurveda rich sources of calcium are in milk, green leafy vegetables, sea foods, and spices.
Deficiency in calcium may lead to rickets in children, osteoporosis, structural abnormalities in bone, irritability of nerve spasms, and hypertension.
High levels of calcium are needed to calcify bones and soft tissues of the kidney.
Bicarbonate is a form of carbon dioxide which is needed in our blood. It forms a buffering system in the body by maintaining acid-base homeostasis.The low levels of Bicarbonate can be a sign of metabolic acidosis which is alkali in nature and can balance acid. Thus to keep kidneys healthy it’s necessary to maintain bicarbonate levels. Low levels of bicarbonate mainly cause kidney diseases. It also interferes in the body’s ability to maintain normal functions of the endocrine system.
The foods which are rich in bicarbonate are meats, eggs, cheese, grains, etc. All these foods make the body acidic.
Thus, it’s necessary to maintain the ions within the body. They are responsible for various tasks, right from homeostasis to the digestion process. Having a proper diet which includes all the ions needed for the body’s nutrition.