Are You ELECTRIC?
I talk about the mental effects of my late diagnosis a lot—trouble accepting it, still trying to somehow find a way to “heal myself,” etc—but something I don’t talk about as much as I should is the physical effects of getting diagnosed with cystic fibrosis 20 years too late. My body went without proper support for 20 years, which has caused sooooooooo many more issues than you could even imagine. My pancreas is about 1/4 as functional as a typical cf patient, I’m swimming with infections both gut and lung (most abx-resistant), and chronic long term levels of deficient electrolytes (just the nature of CF) has, as I’ve just found out, been putting major stress on my heart. Right after I got diagnosed, I was super diligent to use an electrolyte replacement at least twice a day. It made a huge difference! However, when I had my first initial flair of pancreatitis in May 2017 and went raw to try to fight it, I cut out my electrolyte powder (used coconut water instead). But when I had to change my diet again and cut all sugar (for SIBO, Candida, and some other issues with my pancreas I’ve learned about that I’ll be discussing soon), I also cut my coconut water...aka my only source of electrolytes. When my lab test cane back showing “severe deficiency” I was shocked...how could I have forgotten about the importance of electrolytes?! I guess when you have a bajillion other things you’re supplementing with and taking and trying to keep from falling apart some things slide through the cracks. But so the same thing doesn’t happen to you, I’m sharing my experience! And sharing WHY YOU NEED TO BE TAKING ELECTROLYTES!
Why are electrolytes important? Electrolytes usually are thought of as calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chloride. They are termed “electrolytes” because they quite literally have an electrical charge and stimulate nerve impulses in the body, regulating many important bodily functions. Calcium helps with muscle contractions, cell division, nerve signaling, blood clotting, and bone repair/formation; potassium helps stabilize blood pressure and supports the adrenal glands, regulates contractions of the heart muscle, and helps with all muscle functions; magnesium is essential for muscle contractions and relaxation, proper heart rhythm, nerve signaling, anxiety, sleep, brain function, and regulating protein levels in the body; sodium helps maintain fluid balance and regulates muscle contractions and nerve signaling; and chloride regulates fluid balance within the body.
As you can see, these are pretty important functions. But how do you know if you’re electrolyte deficient (dehydrated)? Here’s some common signs:
-excessive thirst (or desire to overhydrate/water not satiating thirst)
-low or high blood pressure
-changes in appetite
-fatigue (including chronic fatigue syndrome and ME)
These are pretty glaring symptoms, and I have had many of them over the years. But sometimes you’re deficient without having symptoms and need to support your levels so your imbalance won’t worsen. Who is at risk for electrolyte imbalance?
-individuals with cystic fibrosis or other illnesses that cause chronic electrolyte imbalance
-people with digestive disorders or those experiencing acute attacks of vomiting, diarrhea, etc.
-individuals with hormonal imbalances and endocrine/metabolic disorders
-people with intestinal malabsorption (poor break down of food leading to insufficient assimilation of nutrients, and therefore, electrolytes)
-people taking certain medications, including heart medications, laxatives, diuretics, antibiotics, HRT (hormone replacement therapy), and chemotherapy
-individuals with kidney disease or kidney problems
Making sure you’re getting enough electrolytes is very important. If you’re not sure about your levels, have your doctor check them (calcium should be 5-5.5 MEQ/L, chloride should be 97-107 MEQ/L, potassium 5-5.3 MEQ/L, magnesium 1.5-2.5 MEQ/L, and sodium 136-145 MEQ/L). If you suspect an imbalance, the first step is making sure you’re eating a diet rich in electrolytes! Remember, #foodismedicine. Getting plenty of leafy greens, coconut water, bananas, celery (I drink celery juice every morning without fail for this reason too! But to get enough from just celery juice I would have to drink over a gallon a day...welcome to CF life), and most other fruits and veggies. Getting plenty of real salt in your diet is important too—I recommend either Himalayan pink salt or Celtic sea salt. However, for those of us with CF, or others who experience severe, chronic electrolyte imbalances, getting enough from food alone can be tricky. Using an electrolyte replacement powder (like the one in the picture, from Vega) has been INVALUABLE to me and has helped me so incredibly much. It’s affordable, convenient, easy to use, and tastes great! It’s also free of sugar which is good for us CFers and those who need to keep blood sugars in check. My favorite brands are Vega, Dr. Berg (has triple the potassium of most powders!), and Ultimate replenisher (see below for clickable links to purchase).
Hydration is important....but it’s far more than just drinking water. Make sure you’re hydrating in a CELLULAR level by making sure your electrolyte levels are optimal and balanced (remember: for every molecule of water, a molecule of sodium has to be with it in order for the water to enter the cell!). And while over-hydration isn’t a common problem, it’s possible (and something I have struggle with my whole life, due to feeling super thirsty from electrolyte imbalance AND excessive thirst from my pancreatic issues). Make sure you’re getting enough water, but not too much. If you’re drinking more than half your body weight in ounces each day and still having a hard time controlling your thirst, an electrolyte replacement might be your saving grace.
To summarize, electrolytes truly do keep us, well, ELECTRIC and energized...as well as perform and stimulate many essential bodily processes. To ensure your electrolyte levels are optimal, eat a wide variety of vitamin and mineral-rich foods (especially fruits and vegetables), plentiful real sea salt (NOT table salt!), and consider supplementing with an electrolyte powder if you’re super active, live in a very hot climate or spend lots of time sweating each day, or have one of the health conditions mentioned above. As always, if you think you have a serious electrolyte imbalance, talk to your doctor and he/she can order the necessary tests to help navigate solving the issue.
Hope this has been helpful. Let me know if there is a particular topic(s) you would like me to address by sending me an email. Until next time!
My Favorite Electrolyte Replacements:
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