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What Happens When Your Body Is Low on Electrolytes?

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What Happens When Your Body Is Low on Electrolytes?

The importance of electrolytes to the proper functioning of our bodies cannot be understated. Often, these essential minerals are taken for granted. Still, the consequences can be severe when our bodies are low on electrolytes.

Together, we'll explore what electrolytes are, their role in our bodies, and what can happen when we don't have enough of them. We'll also explain easy ways to maintain proper levels so you never have to experience any of the symptoms associated with low electrolytes.

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals in our blood and other body fluids that carry electrical impulses. They are needed for proper hydration, muscle function, and other vital processes in the body. The most common electrolytes are: 

common electrolytes hydration


Calcium is an abundant electrolyte in the body. Approximately 99 percent of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth, which helps support their structure and strength. The remaining one percent of calcium is found in your blood and other body fluids, where it plays a role in muscle contraction, nerve function, and blood clotting. 

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium is 1,000 mg for adults under 50 years old and 1,200 mg for adults over 50. You can get calcium from many food sources, including dairy products, leafy green vegetables, almonds, and sesame seeds. You can also take calcium supplements if you feel you are not getting enough from your diet.


Chloride is another abundant electrolyte and is found in many foods. It is also added to table salt (sodium chloride). Chloride is involved in fluid balance and helps maintain the right level of water in your blood and other body tissues. It also plays a role in muscle function and digestion. 

The RDI for chloride is 2,300 mg for adults. You can find chloride in many common foods, such as table salt, seaweed, tomatoes, olives, rye bread, and celery. Just be sure not to overdo it on the sodium chloride (table salt) front — too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure. 

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Like calcium and chloride, magnesium is involved in several essential bodily functions, including muscle contraction, nerve function, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation. In fact, magnesium is also involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body — more than any other mineral. Additionally, magnesium has been shown to help control inflammation and improve sleep quality

The RDI for magnesium is 400 mg for adults. Good food sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables (think kale and spinach), nuts (especially almonds), seeds (such as pumpkin seeds), legumes (especially black beans), whole grains (such as brown rice), fish, and dark chocolate. You can also take magnesium supplements if you feel you are not getting enough from your diet.

foods high in magnesium


Phosphate is another electrolyte that plays an essential role in teeth and bone health. In addition, it helps the body form adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy source for all cells in the body. Phosphate is also involved in cell signaling, muscle contraction, and kidney function. 

The RDI for phosphate is 700 mg for adults. You can find phosphate in many common foods, such as dairy products, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, and legumes.


Potassium is an electrolyte that is critical for proper cell function. For example, it helps muscles contract and nerves send impulses. Potassium is also necessary for heart health and fluid balance in the body

The RDI for potassium is up to 2,000 mg for adults. You can get potassium from many common foods, such as fruits (especially bananas and citrus fruits), vegetables (especially sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and spinach), dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fish.


Sodium is an electrolyte with a bad reputation. This is because too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, a condition that increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. However, sodium is still an essential electrolyte. It helps with fluid balance in the body. In addition, it plays a role in muscle contraction and nerve function. 

The RDI for sodium is 2,300 mg for adults (about one teaspoon of salt). You can find sodium in many common foods, such as soy sauce, ham, bacon, and seafood. Just be conscious that junk food and fast food are often high in sodium, so be sure to check labels and limit your intake of these foods.

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What Causes Low Electrolyte Levels?

Understanding why and how our electrolyte levels can become low is important. This way, we can take steps to prevent problems before they start. 

There are a few different ways that our electrolytes can become imbalanced:


A person becomes overhydrated when they consume too much water. This can cause the body's electrolyte levels to dilute, interfering with how the body functions.

Sweating excessively

Another common cause of low electrolyte levels is sweating excessively. When you sweat, you lose not only water but also electrolytes. If you sweat too much, you can deplete your body's electrolyte levels and become dehydrated. This can be due to strenuous exercise, illness, or just being outdoors on a hot day.

Vomiting or diarrhea

Fluids aren't the only thing you lose when you vomit or have diarrhea. You're also losing electrolytes. This can cause dehydration and other problems if not treated properly.

Certain medications

Some medications can also cause low electrolyte levels. For example, diuretics are medications that increase urine output and can therefore cause the body to lose electrolytes through urine. Other medicines that may cause low electrolyte levels include laxatives and some cancer treatments.

medical conditions electrolyte imbalance

Medical conditions

Some medical conditions can cause low electrolyte levels. Diseases that commonly lead to electrolyte imbalances include:

  • Kidney Disease – Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys cannot properly filter waste from the blood. This can lead to a build-up of toxins in the blood, which can eventually cause low electrolyte levels. Kidney disease can be caused by some things, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and infections.
  • Liver Disease – Liver disease occurs when the liver cannot function properly and includes conditions like cirrhosis, hepatitis, and fatty liver disease. Liver disease can lead to hyponatremia (low sodium levels) and hypokalemia (low potassium levels).
  • Heart Disease – Heart disease is a general term for many conditions that affect the heart. These conditions can include coronary artery disease, heart failure, and arrhythmias. In addition, heart disease can cause low electrolyte levels by affecting how the body retains fluids.
  • Cancer – Individuals with breast, renal, and prostate cancer are prone to low electrolytes due to issues stemming from the disease and treatment methods. This causes fluid and electrolyte imbalances that can lead to low electrolyte levels, specifically hyponatremia (low sodium levels).
  • Injury – When you're injured, especially with burns, you can lose electrolytes through the fluid released from your body. This can lead to dehydration and low electrolyte levels if not treated properly.

Insufficient dietary intake

Not getting enough electrolytes in your diet is another common cause of low electrolyte levels. If you don't consume enough foods that contain electrolytes, your body will eventually become depleted of them. This is why it's essential to follow a healthy diet that incorporates a variety of electrolyte-rich foods.

Special diets

Certain athletic diets or those that follow specific eating patterns like keto may put a person at risk for low electrolyte levels. This is because these diets often restrict certain food groups that are high in electrolytes, like carbohydrates. This can lead to electrolyte deficiencies if not correctly managed through methods like using keto electrolyte powder or otherwise supplementing with electrolytes.

Signs and Symptoms of Low Electrolyte Levels

Clinical monitoring of electrolytes is a complex process that involves tests done by medical professionals to determine electrolyte levels in the body. However, some signs and symptoms may indicate low electrolyte levels. These include:

Fatigue or Weakness

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of low electrolyte levels. So if you find yourself feeling tired more easily than usual or unable to maintain your ordinary level of activity, it could be a sign that your electrolyte levels are low.

tired bicyclist on road


If you feel like you're going to faint or feel unsteady on your feet, it could be a sign of low electrolyte levels. Dizziness is often caused by low sodium levels and can lead to falls and other accidents if not properly treated.

Muscle Cramps or Spasms

Another common symptom of low electrolytes is muscle cramping or spasms. This is because electrolytes are needed for proper muscle function. If you find yourself experiencing muscle cramps or spasms, it could be a sign that you need to increase your intake of electrolytes.


Headaches can also be a symptom of low electrolyte levels. This is because when the body lacks electrolytes, cell function is impeded, resulting in headaches. They usually manifest as dull aches, but can also be throbbing or sharp.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting can also be caused by insufficient electrolyte levels. This is because when the body doesn't have enough electrolytes, functions like digestion and absorption are affected. This can lead to nausea and vomiting as the body tries to rid itself of the offending substance.

Convulsions and Seizures

In severe cases, low sodium, calcium, and magnesium levels can result in convulsions and seizures. This is because these electrolytes are needed for proper nerve function.

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restoring electrolyte balance

How to Restore Electrolyte Balance

If you think you may be suffering from low electrolytes and your symptoms are severe, it is essential for you to seek medical help immediately. Your doctor will likely order a blood test to check your electrolyte levels and determine the best course of treatment.

If your symptoms are mild or come and go, there are some things you can do at home to restore your electrolyte balance. These include:

Drinking electrolyte-rich fluids

One of the most effective ways to increase your electrolyte levels is to drink fluids that contain electrolytes. Just be sure they aren't spiked with sugar, which can actually cause you to lose more electrolytes. Some good options include coconut water, sports drinks, and bone broth. You can also use electrolyte powder with regular water to create your own electrolyte drink.

Eating electrolyte-rich foods

You can also increase your electrolyte levels by eating foods rich in electrolytes. This includes all the good stuff like fruits, vegetables, lean meat, seafood, and dairy products. Avoid processed foods, as they often interfere with electrolyte absorption and are high in sodium.

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Taking supplements

If you're struggling to get enough electrolytes through diet alone, you may want to consider taking supplements. This is especially true if you're sweating or have an underlying medical condition affecting your electrolyte levels. Some good options include multivitamins and capsule supplements that contain electrolytes. You can also opt for electrolyte pills designed to help your body absorb and use electrolytes more effectively and stay hydrated.


Getting enough rest is also important for restoring electrolyte balance. When you are tired, your body doesn't have the energy to process and use electrolytes properly. Make sure to get plenty of sleep and take breaks during the day to allow your body to recover. This is especially true when you're not feeling well and your body uses electrolytes faster than usual.

Avoiding diuretics

Diuretics are substances that promote urination. They can be found in some medications, alcoholic beverages, and caffeinated drinks. Avoiding diuretics will help to prevent the loss of electrolytes through urine.

Final Thoughts

So, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is vital to take a closer look at your electrolyte levels and consider ways to restore balance. While some cases may warrant medical attention, many can be remedied with simple dietary and lifestyle changes. Stay hydrated, eat a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, and get plenty of rest. And when all else fails, supplements can help bridge the gap. Don't suffer from low electrolytes silently — start taking steps today to feel better tomorrow.


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