Physiology 101

The word electrolyte generally refers to the largest concentration of charged particles within the human body. (The biggest two are sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl-)… which, when you put them together, make up the bulk of our salt.) These charged particles are critical for your physiology: all of the cells in your body do their work based on the gradient, or separation, of positive and negative charges (kind of like a battery). 

This means you have to have the proper balance of electrolytes for life.

Fortunately, your body already has a pretty awesome buffer system built in to maintain these concentrations even when you (for instance) sweat a little too much or drink too much (or too little) purified water, or eat a whole bunch of refined crappy salt or processed crap high in pure sodium, rather than healthy sea salt (more on this below). 

The brunt of this effort to maintain your electrolyte balance falls on your kidneys. You’ve got to help them out, though. When dehydrated, it’s important that you rehydrate not just with pure water, but also with a balance of electrolytes. This is why most sport drinks also contain electrolytes for rehydration, and why it’s a good idea to use Pedialyte or a similar product when rehydrating after a bout of acute diarrhea or vomiting. 

For general maintenance, though, it’s also important to help your kidneys out by taking in a good balance of electrolytes. Don’t way overdo the sodium (which is very high in processed foods), but don’t skip the salt altogether either. Just make sure you choose the good stuff. 

What’s In Natural (Sea) Salt

Historically, naturally occurring salt was the only salt available for use. This salt comes from the sea, or from other water sources (such as the Himalayas — hence the popular pink Himalayan salt). This salt contains not just sodium chloride (only around 84% actually), but also a number of other trace minerals. The precise balance of minerals depends on where the salt was harvested, but generally they include a combination of silicon and phosphorus (both necessary for calcium uptake into bones), vanadium (which helps with blood sugar control), magnesium (a very common deficiency), calcium, and potassium. 

For patients who don’t eat a lot of seafood, I would also recommend choosing a sea salt with added iodine, since this is a necessary trace mineral to ward off hypothyroidism

How Table Salt is Made

By contrast, most of the salt on American tables starts out as rock salt. It’s got a bunch of inedible impurities in it, so it has to be heated in a kiln to 1200 degrees F, changing its chemical structure to sodium chloride (NaCl – this processed salt is about 98% this). Then they add anti-caking agents (such as toxic ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate), and in places where there isn’t fluorine added to the water, they’ll add fluoride to the salt, plus a little potassium iodide (added because we’re not getting enough iodine in our diets).

As a general rule, you should avoid any highly processed substance that masquerades as food. In this case, though, by choosing sea salt, you’ll also get a good source of other electrolytes and minerals, which will assist your kidneys in maintaining optimum health.

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