Diabetes and Electrolytes

What are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are ionic solutions (salts), which exist in certain minerals. Electrolytes are responsible for maintaining proper hydration so that your muscles and nerves can function correctly. Since the human body is made up primarily of water it is important that we consume an adequate amount of electrolytes as they are crucial for our cell functions. The essential electrolytes most commonly found in the human body are sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, chloride, calcium, and phosphates.

How Does Diabetes Affect Electrolyte Balance?

In cases where a disease such as diabetes disrupts metabolic function, the body’s electrolyte control system is broken down. The results of electrolyte imbalance can be severe. This is why managing electrolytes is a major issue for diabetics. One problem diabetics face is an offset of the proportion of electrolytes in their body caused by changes in their blood glucose level (typically high blood sugar). When you are hyperglycemic your body tries to get rid of excess glucose through increased urination. This increase in fluid loss causes electrolytes to also be lost, creating an imbalance in the body. The symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include fatigue, headache, irritability, and muscle pain.

What Are the Dangers of Electrolyte Imbalance?

Without enough electrolytes your body’s cells can’t absorb water. This can lead to other potentially serious conditions such as:

  • Hyponytremia
  • Hypocalcemia
  • Arrhythmia of the heart
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Hypovolemic shock

As a Diabetic What Can I Do to Keep My Electrolytes Balanced?

Since electrolytes are mostly found in carbohydrates, carb counting is an important part of managing your electrolytes. This is especially important when electrolytes are lost due to high blood sugar rather than from exercise, which typically lowers blood sugar. When your blood glucose level is already high taking in more carbohydrates can be dangerous. Make sure to check the labels on sports drinks before consuming them as means of electrolyte replenishment so you will know what effect they will have on your glucose level. The best way to keep your electrolytes balanced without disrupting your blood sugar is to include foods which are good sources of electrolytes in your diet as part of your diabetic meal plan.

Foods high in electrolytes:

  • Tomatoes
  • Bananas
  • Watermelons
  • Apples
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Avocadoes
  • Spinach
  • Oranges

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2 thoughts on “Diabetes and Electrolytes

  1. How do you feel about diet sports drinks replenishing these essential electrolytes or do you think that foods are the best way to have electrolytes in your diet as a diabetic? I honestly never knew how important electrolytes were to diets; I always thought that they were the most important to athletes.

    • Sports drinks are fine if your blood sugar is low, especially after exercising, but if you’re blood sugar is high drinking these could be dangerous. The best way to keep electrolytes in balance as a diabetic is to have them in your daily diet so you can account for the carbohydrates contained in electrolyte rich foods. Dealing with simultaneous high blood sugar and unbalanced electrolytes is extremely tricky for diabetics. If you do find yourself in this situation you should take action to correct your blood sugar level before attempting to replenish electrolytes.

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