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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Gerontologist

Electrolytes – We Need Them

What the devil is an electrolyte, and why do we need them? The main electrolytes in our body are calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, phosphate, and sodium. These nutrients, or chemicals, conduct electricity when dissolved in a liquid, like water. Our body is 70% water, and electrolytes are important in so many of our internal functions, from regulating our heartbeat to allowing our muscles to contract so we can move. They also interact with each other and the cells in all our tissues and nerves. One of their key functions involves balancing the body’s fluid levels. You may have heard the term “electrolyte imbalance,” which in most of us can be easily corrected, but in older adults this imbalance can become a serious issue.

electrolyte balance

We get electrolytes from the food we eat and from drinking certain fluids. We lose some electrolytes most commonly through sweating—usually from exercise or from being in a hot climate for an extended period of time, bowel movements and urinating. We might also develop an electrolyte imbalance when we are ill, especially if we have a stomach issue causing diarrhea and/or vomiting.

For healthy, active children and adults, an electrolyte imbalance is easily remedied by drinking more water and adding in a few electrolyte-rich foods. If following the KETO diet, electrolyte imbalance can happen because of exaggerated water loss. If illness is the cause, adding a few glasses of the house-made electrolyte drink (see recipe below) will put you right in just a short time. Seniors, on the other hand, may have developed a more severe case of imbalance due to a poor diet low in nutrients or whole foods, researchers sometimes refer to as “the tea and toast diet,” too little exercise, and not drinking enough water. Some of the causes outside a senior’s control that can also cause electrolyte problems include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Some drugs: diuretics, ACE inhibitors, some antipsychotic drugs and anti-depressants
  • Cancer treatments
  • Intestinal or digestive issues (trouble absorbing nutrients from food)

Your doctor can easily include an electrolyte panel as part of a routine physical exam, as part of a range of tests, or it can be performed on its own. Check in with your doctor if you have any concerns.

As we get older our kidneys become less efficient, which can lead to frequent urination, and so we pee out the electrolytes we need. This inefficiency can also result in painful urination or incontinence. Many people try to avoid these occurrences by not drinking liquids, but that only makes the problem worse.

The most common electrolytes to go out of balance are potassium, calcium, and magnesium. A deficiency in these doesn’t show up right away but develops gradually. Some of the signs of low electrolytes? Here is a quick list to think about:

  • Are you feeling particularly fatigued?
  • Do you feel particularly anxious or are having trouble sleeping?
  • Do you have weakness or spasms in your muscles?
  • More headaches?
  • Having a change in bowel movements?
  • Do you feel abnormal sensations on your skin?

Any, or all, of these can be an indicator of a low electrolytes. A growing concern among older adults is also the over-use of laxatives and certain antacids. Constipation (from poor diet and lack of water) is a very common complaint, and many people self-treat this with laxatives, when adding whole high fiber and nutrient-dense foods and drinking enough water will go a long way toward correcting the problem.

To prevent electrolyte imbalance and always be well hydrated, strive to eat whole, unpackaged, unprocessed foods. Some of the best choices include dark leafy green veggies, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes or squash, bananas (in moderation due to their high sugar content) and avocados. Unprocessed hydrating foods also packed with electrolytes: celery, watermelon, cucumber, kiwi, bell peppers, citrus fruits, and pineapple. If you find yourself low in a particular electrolyte here is a short list of foods to add into your eating plan.

  • For chloride: low-sodium tomato juice (or fresh!), lettuce, olives
  • For calcium: collard greens, spinach, kale, sardines
  • For potassium: potatoes with skin, plain yogurt, the occasional banana
  • For Magnesium: halibut, pumpkin seeds, spinach

Lastly, drink water!  If you are drinking enough you should need to find the ladies room every three to four hours, which translates for most folks, into eight-ten 8 ounce glasses of clean, good quality water every day.

Here is a great low sugar, non-chemical recipe for an electrolyte replacement drink.

Yield 4 cups (946 ml), serving size 1 cup (237 ml)

  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 ½ cups (360 ml) unsweetened coconut water
  • 2 cups (480 ml) cold, filtered water

All of us need to keep an eye on our electrolyte balance. Be especially mindful of our older loved ones to make sure they, too, are well hydrated and replacing those important nutrients we all need to stay vibrant!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Electrolytes – We Need Them

October 7, 2019—Straight Answers on Breast Cancer

Claudia Harsh, MD, an expert in the field of women’s medicine, answers questions about the connection between menopause and breast cancer.

October 14, 2019—Great Answers on Breast Cancer Prevention

Once again Dr. Harsh offers thoughtful answers to some of the most pressing questions women have regarding breast cancer.

October 21, 2019—Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Two glasses of wine a day may lead to a greater chance of contracting breast cancer, especially in women with a family history of the disease. The good news? Exercise lowers the odds!

October 28, 2019 Foods as Prevention in Stopping Breast Cancer

Regular, focused exercise is the number one breast cancer risk reducer, but making friends with vegetables and cutting back on red meat and processed foods come in second and third.

November 4, 2019 Keeping Your Balance

Keeping your balance throughout your life is an empowering –and do-able goal.

November 11, 2019–Great Remedies For Winter Illnesses

Cold and flu season is one time where non-pharmaceutical remedies excel at bolstering the immune system to efficiently squash symptoms before they evolve into a serious illness. Adding more Vitamin C, D, and zinc to your daily regimen strengthens your immune system and may help you avoid that nasty cold.

November 18, 2019: Raising Our Awareness to Help Prevent 

Exercise, proper diet and rest, social connections, and lowered stress all play huge roles in lowering one’s propensity for developing Alzheimer’s. Learning to play an instrument shows promise, as well.

November 25, 2019 A Gratitude Attitude is Where It’s At

Embracing gratitude makes people physically, socially, and psychologically healthier. Grateful people feel less stress, less anxiety, greater life satisfaction, and better sleep—especially in combination with my Gratitude Meditation: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/gratitude-meditation/id461484572

December 2, 2019–Great Remedies for Winter Illnesses

 Herbs and dietary supplements — one area where non-pharmaceutical remedies excel at bolstering the immune system to efficiently squash symptoms before they evolve into a serious illness. The qualities of Vitamin C, zinc, and Vitamin D are covered in this post.

December 9, 2019–Get Hygge, Be Happier!

Hygge, pronounced “hoo-gah” is a Danish term defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” (The Little Book of Hygge).  This superior Scandinavian practice has no direct translation in English, but “cozy and comfy” comes close. Find time, especially during busy holiday seasons, to recharge, reflect, reorient, and revive, in other words, find time to hygge!

December 16, 2019—Some Ideas for Bringing In 2020

The year 2020 seems especially auspicious, being the sequential year of the century, and the beginning of a new decade.  I offer a winning, triple-play suggestion to bring in the New Year—combining exercise, a personal commitment to oneself, and being fully present.

December 23, 2019—A Plan for 2020

Regular exercise boosts our testosterone, lengthens our telomeres, and helps our adrenals make more estrogen. These actions allow our brains to fire on all fronts and our memory banks to stay as crisp as a cracker. They also give us a greater sense of well-being, help us feel less irritable and more balanced, and contribute to our sexual comfort and desire. Move it to keep it should be our theme for 2020!

December 30, 2019—Fourth Quarter Recap

Fourth Quarter Blog Recap

We postmenopausal women gain doubly from making regular exercise part of our lives. Regular exercise keeps our muscles strong and boosts our production of testosterone, which we lose at menopause. Testosterone is the hormone that builds and maintains muscle, as well as stoking the fire of romance and intimacy. Exercise also gives our adrenal glands a boost toward producing more estrogen—the site from which we get most of our estrogen in postmenopause. Talk about yet another bushel basket of benefits from sweating for forty-five minutes most every day. This is very good news!

After fifty-five we lose what I call our “protective armor of hormones.” Then, our adrenal glands and specific places in our brain must take over the job once done by our ovaries. But, it is an imperfect transition, as many of us loudly agree. Now, research reveals that exercise helps our adrenals make more estrogen which help keeps our telomeres long. This action allows our brains to fire on all fronts and our memory banks to stay as crisp as a cracker. It also bumps up the level of estrogen circulating in our bodies which gives us a greater sense of well-being, helps us feel less irritable and more balanced, and contributes to our sexual comfort and desire. Additionally, with a gaggle of other hormones, like serotonin and dopamine, regular exercise doubles the dose of perks to our brain’s other receptive centers—pleasure, happiness, and contentment. We get all of this by habitually hitting the dance floor, swinging to the Latin beat in Zumba class, or mastering our serve on the tennis court. I find this information very encouraging.

Now that we are surrounded by winter, with the shortest day of the year just behind us, let’s get up and out and back on track once the holidays are over. We can start the New Year with the knowledge that lacing up those tennies, or slipping on our dance pumps are the first steps toward revving up our bodies and minds to meet the New Year and the new decade– ready to rumble. Look out world, here we come!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

A Plan for 2020

Recently, I heard a great idea for starting out the New Year and the new decade. It got me thinking about how I could mark this milestone in our evolution. I love, as do many of us, to clearly designate a beginning (and sometimes an ending) to a phase of our life journey, or the life journey of our loved ones. It makes for bite-sized, manageable chunks we can understand and file away in our brains, or in the cabinet. The calendar makes for convenient segmenting in this regard, and the year 2020 seems especially auspicious, being the sequential year of the century, and the beginning of a new decade. (Some folks argue that technically the decade starts in 2021, but I am going by the feeling we have that a new decade is dawning in a few weeks.)

Here is the idea: my friend plans to walk one mile each hour from 12:00 noon on December 31, 2019 through 12:00 pm midnight on December 31, 2019. She will finish in the wee hours of 2020, and welcome in the New Year and the decade, just as it begins. It will take her about seventeen minutes to walk each mile. I think this is a winning triple-play to bring in the New Year—combining exercise, a personal commitment to oneself, and being fully present for those twelve hours. Following through with this suggestion gets the New Year off to a positive start with three great choices we can make to help us be more vibrant. What could be better? I offer this idea now so that you can make plans to work it seamlessly into your holiday.

Do you have something special planned to bring in the New Year and the new decade? I would love to hear from you. Please share your yearly ritual, or what you are planning for this new chapter in your life!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!