In addition to eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly, maintaining the appropriate balance of electrolytes can play a role in heart health. But what are electrolytes? And how do you know what the right balance is for your body?
Electrolytes are substances in the blood—such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphate—which send signals throughout the body. These signals serve purposes like regulating nerve function, rebuilding damaged tissue, balancing blood pressure, and triggering electrical signals to the heart.1
Electrolytes are commonly discussed in reference to hydration, as they also play a role in hydrating the body.2 However, they are not only incorporated into the body by drinking water or sports drinks. Rather, they are chemicals that need water in order to conduct electricity and perform their functions within the body.
Electrolytes work together to properly perform their functions, like sending electrical impulses from the heart cells throughout the body. Healthy levels and an appropriate balance of electrolytes is crucial to keeping all systems and muscle functions healthy, including those relating to the heart.
How electrolytes impact heart health
Deficiencies in electrolytes or imbalances in the levels of each interacting electrolyte may impede heart health in two main ways:
High blood pressure
When potassium levels are too low, blood vessels are unable to dilate appropriately to allow for sufficient blood flow. This can lead to high blood pressure.
Magnesium and potassium deficiencies have been found to play a role in arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation.
Monitoring and balancing electrolytes
Managing an electrolyte imbalance does not necessarily mean your body is deficient in electrolytes. Depending on factors like stress, prescription drugs, and other health conditions, keeping your electrolytes within levels of healthy balance may instead require fewer electrolytes in your system.
Talk with your doctor about the best course of action to keep an eye on your heart health and electrolyte balance, and consider these strategies for ongoing care.
In some cases, treatment for AFib may involve a magnesium supplement. Using supplements to better control levels of magnesium, potassium, and other electrolytes can help protect your heart and keep your body functioning normally.
Hydrate after exercise
Drinking one serving of an electrolyte-rich sports drink or plenty of water after exercise can help replenish electrolytes lost through sweat and exertion. However, excessive consumption of sports drinks can result in too much of certain electrolytes and a high intake of sugar. Check the nutrition facts on the bottle to identify what one serving is and stick to that.
Learn about electrolyte interactions with drugs or supplements
Many prescription drugs can deplete electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium. For example, diuretics and insulin can impact potassium levels.
Pay attention to your diet
The average American diet contains a deficiency of potassium and magnesium. With a recommended dose of at least 4,700 mg of potassium each day, over 98% of Americans are deficient in potassium.3 Consider adding magnesium and potassium-heavy foods like fruits and vegetables as these are part of a recommended heart-healthy diet.
Before adding supplements or changing your diet, or if you’re concerned about your electrolyte levels or heart health, talk with your doctor.Sources: