This article will describe electrolytes and how they can help you avoid dehydration and other issues when you have diarrhea. We will also discuss three ways to replenish electrolytes quickly: high-electrolyte beverages, oral rehydration solutions, and IV therapy.
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals that are essential for many of your body’s most important functions, such as regulating muscle contractions and maintaining nervous-system function and pH balance (the balance of acidity and alkalinity in your body). Calcium, potassium, and sodium are examples of electrolytes.
Signs of low electrolyte levels include blood pressure changes, fatigue, headache, low energy levels, muscle cramps, nausea, and an overall feeling of discomfort and unease.
Electrolytes are most commonly lost through diarrhea, sweat, urine, and vomiting.
How can electrolytes help you avoid dehydration from diarrhea?
If you suffer from diarrhea, you quickly lose water and electrolytes. Taking in as much water and electrolytes as possible when you are sick with diarrhea is important. You are ahead of the game if you begin taking in extra water and electrolytes when you begin to have diarrhea. This will decrease your risk of becoming dehydrated in the first place. If you have not been increasing your water and electrolyte intake from when you first began having diarrhea, you will need to work harder to restore hydration.
How can you replenish electrolytes quickly?
There are a few ways to replenish your electrolyte levels quickly when you are very dehydrated as a result of ongoing diarrhea or other cause of severe dehydration. Here are three of the most popular and effective ways to replenish electrolytes quickly.
There are many beverages and liquids available that are high in electrolytes. These include fruit juices diluted with water, sports drinks and other drinks formulated for high amounts of electrolytes (such as Pedialyte), and coconut water.
Fruit juices diluted with water are easier for your digestive system to take when experiencing dehydration due to nausea and vomiting.
Sports drinks are another option, but they may have more sugar than electrolytes. Although sugar is essential for hydration, you also need salt, and many sports drinks do not contain enough salt to replenish your salt levels.
Electrolyte-rich beverages formulated for children do not contain adequate amounts of electrolytes for adults, so adults are advised to avoid children’s electrolyte drinks altogether rather than just drinking more to get the right amount of them.
Coconut water is becoming increasingly more available at grocery stores and is one of the healthier drink options for restoring proper electrolyte levels.
Oral rehydration solutions
You can buy an oral rehydration solution (ORS) at a drugstore or make your own at home. An ORS is a drink made of water, sugar, potassium, sodium, and electrolytes.
ORS can be used by adults and children alike. Children are more likely to need ORSs because they have a higher metabolic rate and can become dehydrated more quickly than adults do.
However, you should consult a medical professional before using an ORS or giving your child an ORS. If you overuse an ORS or take one when you do not need it, or if you make it incorrectly, you are at risk for hypernatremia (salt toxicity).
Possible side effects include:
- Kidney damage
- Loss of appetite
- Severe thirst
You should be careful about using an ORS or giving one to your child if you or your child have diabetes, heart failure, or a kidney disorder, or are taking medication for heart disease or to regulate blood pressure.
IV therapy is the fastest and most direct way to get more electrolytes into your system. IVs deliver high doses of concentrated electrolytes and IV fluids (usually normal saline solution, which is salt diluted in water) to rehydrate you. These fluids and electrolytes go right into your bloodstream and start working immediately.
High-electrolyte beverages, oral rehydration solutions, and any other oral forms of high-electrolyte foods or drinks need to go through your digestive system before your body can use them. The digestion process can take up to 12 hours.
As discussed earlier in this article, oral rehydration salts can cause several side effects and should be avoided if you have certain health conditions or take certain medications.
Additionally, sports drinks are often too high in sugar and artificial colors and not high enough in electrolytes. They are more likely recommended if you have been exercising for an extended period and sweating profusely.
IV therapy is the best way to correct severe dehydration and restore proper electrolyte levels because it works immediately and has minimal side effects.