The Difference Between Minerals and Electrolytes
Are electrolytes minerals? The simple answer is yes. However, while some electrolytes are minerals, not all minerals are electrolytes. This may seem minor, but in fact, it’s a major distinction.
For one, electrolytes can be both macro and micro minerals. And while some minerals that are electrolytes are essential for proper bodily functions, others are less essential, although still healthy.
So, as we answer the question, are electrolytes and minerals the same? We’ll see there are many similarities, but also many differences. But, just as you likely suspected, consuming water with electrolytes and minerals and other substances with electrolytes is good for your overall health.
What Are Electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals in your body with an electric charge. They are also known as ions. Electrolytes are found in your body’s cells, tissues and fluids. And by maintaining a proper balance of electrolytes, your body can perform essential functions, like circulating your blood to regulating muscle actions.
Several minerals, including sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate and magnesium, are electrolytes. So when these minerals are consumed, your body is also consuming the electrolytes.
Electrolytes are consumed through food and drinks. While proper hydration is important, consumers must also eat a well-balanced diet.
However, it’s becoming harder to get the appropriate amount of minerals and electrolytes as our food supply continues to grow in nutrient-depleted soils. Not only that, but more people are turning to diets that are heavy in processed foods, and those foods don’t contain as many nutrients. If you’re not getting enough minerals that are electrolytes, you’re not getting enough electrolytes either.
Electrolytes can also leave your body through urine and sweat. And during intense physical activities, like working out, you sweat more, which means you lose electrolytes. So the more you sweat, the more electrolytes your body will likely require in order to make up for those that were lost.
Benefits of Electrolytes
Electrolytes are vital to keeping your body functioning and balanced. And looking at the benefits of electrolytes vs trace minerals, it’s obvious they share many of the same advantages.
- Studies indicate electrolytes are needed for proper brain function. But, more specifically, electrolytes help the brain send signals to other parts of the body through the nervous system.
- Calcium, also an electrolyte, is also needed for proper muscle contraction. This electrolyte allows the muscle fibers to move as needed in order to shorten and contract. Magnesium is another mineral, and electrolyte, that’s needed for proper muscular function.
- Electrolytes are also needed to maintain, or balance, fluid levels — including water — throughout the body. Sodium, in particular, helps balance fluid levels with the help of osmosis. With the right amount of electrolytes, dehydration is prevented at the cellular level.
- Electrolytes also help regulate pH levels throughout the body. Your blood pH level should be 7.4. If it moves too far from that, it can trigger a wide range of health issues.
In general, the benefits of both trace minerals and electrolytes are apparent in many bodily functions, which is why a shortage of minerals — or electrolytes — can cause problems.
What Minerals Are Electrolytes?
You know now that electrolytes are minerals, but which minerals are, exactly? Most electrolytes are macrominerals, including sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate and magnesium.
These minerals are considered electrolytes because they dissolve in fluid and can carry an electric charge. As shown in the studies noted above, electrolytes help move electrical impulses around the body, ensuring every part of the body is doing its job and encouraging overall good health.
Now you may be wondering, are trace minerals electrolytes? Not exactly. There are some trace minerals that qualify as electrolytes once they dissolve into fluid inside the body. So, it’s not fair to say that trace minerals are the same as electrolytes because they are, in fact, different.
While this page focuses heavily on the benefits of the major minerals that are electrolytes, we don’t want to neglect to mention that trace minerals are vital as well.
Sodium is an osmotically active anion. It’s considered to be the most important of the electrolytes. Sodium maintains extracellular fluid volume, which is essential to regulate the cell membrane potential. Sodium gets exchanged with potassium among the cell membranes during active transport.
The regulation of sodium occurs in the kidneys. Among the numerous electrolyte disorders known, hyponatremia is one of the most common. Patients suffering from this condition face neurological symptoms ranging from headaches and confusion to delirium and nausea.
While consuming too much sodium can be dangerous, having the perfect amount benefits overall health in several ways. Not getting enough sodium has been linked to several health problems, including elevated cholesterol levels, a higher risk of heart disease and insulin resistance.
CalciumCalcium is also a vital electrolyte, as it is needed for nerve impulse transmission, skeletal mineralization and regulation of muscle contractions. Calcium absorption occurs in the intestine, with the help of Vitamin D. Hypocalcemia is the term for calcium deficiency. A lack of calcium may lead to osteoporosis.
Symptoms of hypocalcemia include:
- Memory loss
- Muscle spasms
- Tingling and numbness of hands and feet
- Brittle, weak nails
- Bones that fracture easily
Because the body requires calcium to build strong bones, it’s considered a vital mineral — and electrolyte. Plus, your nerves, heart and muscles need calcium to function correctly.
Without maintaining the proper level of potassium, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Muscle twitching
- Muscle cramps
- Digestive issues
- Trouble breathing
- Mood changes
Studies show a lack of potassium can also negatively affect the nervous system’s impulses.
Comparatively, studies show numerous benefits of getting enough potassium on a daily basis, including:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Stroke prevention
- Reduce risk of osteoporosis
- Reduced risk of kidney stones
- Lower water retention
- Loss of fluid
- Trouble breathing
- Vomiting and diarrhea — caused by the fluid loss
Chloride helps regulate the amount of fluid inside your cells. It also regulates the pH level of your bodily fluids, blood pressure and blood volume. Most of the chloride in your body comes from sodium chloride or salt. This is typically consumed in your foods and when you drink water.
However, consuming too much chloride and letting it build up can also cause hyperchloremia.
Phosphate is considered an extracellular fluid cation. Most of the body’s phosphate is found in the teeth and bones; soft tissue holds the remaining amount. This mineral is needed for metabolic function.
Phosphorus imbalances are caused by a lack of the nutrient in your diet, a gastrointestinal disorder or too much excretion through the kidneys.
Phosphorus can help you:
- Maintain strong bones
- Keep energy levels high
- Move muscles with ease
- Build strong teeth
- Reduce muscle pain following exercise
- Repair tissue and cells
- Filter out waste properly
Taking too much phosphate can be toxic, resulting in diarrhea and hardening of soft tissue and organs.
Magnesium is also an intracellular cation. It is involved in ATP metabolism, muscle regulation and neurological functions. One study suggests up to 75% of adults may not get enough magnesium, which — over time — can lead to a magnesium deficiency.
Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include:
- Muscle spasms and cramps
- Muscle weakness
- Irregular heartbeat
On the flip side, the benefits of proper magnesium levels are far-reaching.
Studies suggest the following benefits of magnesium:
- Boost to exercise performance
- Less depression
- Better insulin control
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduces inflammation
- Prevents migraines
- Improves PMS symptoms
How to Make Sure You Get Enough Electrolytes
Are electrolytes minerals? Yes, and you need them if you seek to achieve optimal health. So, how can you ensure that your body is receiving the electrolytes it needs? For starters, you want to eat a balanced and healthy diet that includes foods with electrolytes. Some of these foods include:
It’s also essential that you drink plenty of water. However, you don’t want to drink too much or you could inadvertently flush away the valuable electrolytes within your body.
Keep in mind that while sodium is an electrolyte, you don’t want to overdo it. Consuming too much salt can cause an unbalance in your body. Additionally, you want to consume more electrolytes after a strenuous workout or if you have been sweating. Drink water or a sports drink following these occasions.
If you are taking any medication, you should talk to your healthcare provider about the impact it may have on your electrolytes — or mineral absorption in general. If upping your electrolytes through your diet isn’t working, it’s always possible to add a high-quality supplement that addresses your needs.