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Medicine LibreTexts

3: Water & Electrolytes

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  • [ "article:topic-guide", "authorname:hawaiinutrition" ]

    In this chapter we will discuss the importance and functions of fluid and electrolyte balance in the human body, the consequences of getting too much or too little of water and electrolytes, the best dietary sources of these nutrients, and healthier beverage choices. After reading this chapter you will know what to look for in sports drinks and will be able to select the best products to keep hydrated.

    • 3.1: Introduction to Water & Electrolytes
      The latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, covering the period from 2005 to 2008, reports that about 50 percent of Americans consume sugary drinks daily. Excess consumption of sugary soft drinks have been scientifically proven to increase the risk for dental caries, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In addition to sugary soft drinks, beverages containing added sugars include fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and sweetened bottled waters.
    • 3.2: Overview of Fluid and Electrolyte Balance
      A human body is made up of mostly water. An adult consists of about 37 to 42 liters of water, or about eighty pounds. Fortunately, humans have compartmentalized tissues; otherwise we might just look like a water balloon! Newborns are approximately 70 percent water. Adult males typically are composed of about 60 percent water and females are about 55 percent water. (This gender difference reflects the differences in body-fat content, since body fat is practically water-free.
    • 3.3: Water’s Importance to Vitality
      Add all the ways you use water every day and you still will not come close to the countless uses water has in the human body. Of all the nutrients, water is the most critical as its absence proves lethal within a few days. Organisms have adapted numerous mechanisms for water conservation. Water uses in the human body can be loosely categorized into four basic functions: transportation vehicle, medium for chemical reactions, lubricant/shock absorber, and temperature regulator.
    • 3.4: Regulation of Water Balance
      As the food enters your stomach, gastric juice is secreted. As it enters the small intestine, pancreatic juice is secreted. Each of these fluids contains a great deal of water. How is that water replaced in these organs? What happens to the water now in the intestines? In a day, there is an exchange of about 10 liters of water among the body’s organs. The osmoregulation of this exchange involves complex communication between the brain, kidneys, and endocrine system.
    • 3.5: Electrolytes Important for Fluid Balance
      The unequal movement of the positively charged sodium and potassium ions makes intracellular fluid more negatively charged than the extracellular fluid. This charge gradient is another source of energy that a cell uses to perform work. You will soon learn that this charge gradient and the sodium-potassium pump are also essential for nerve conduction and muscle contraction. The many functions of the sodium-potassium pump in the body account for approximately a quarter of total resting energy expe
    • 3.6: Sodium
      Sodium is vital not only for maintaining fluid balance but also for many other essential functions. In contrast to many minerals, sodium absorption in the small intestine is extremely efficient and in a healthy individual all excess sodium is excreted by the kidneys. In fact, very little sodium is required in the diet (about 200 milligrams) because the kidneys actively reabsorb sodium.
    • 3.7: Chloride
      Chloride is the primary anion in extracellular fluid. In addition to passively following sodium, chloride has its own protein channels that reside in cell membranes. These protein channels are especially abundant in the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, and lungs.
    • 3.8: Potassium
      Potassium is the most abundant positively charged ion inside of cells. Ninety percent of potassium exists in intracellular fluid, with about 10 percent in extracellular fluid, and only 1 percent in blood plasma. As with sodium, potassium levels in the blood are strictly regulated. The hormone aldosterone is what primarily controls potassium levels, but other hormones (such as insulin) also play a role.
    • 3.9: Consequences of Deficiency or Excess
      As with all nutrients, having too much or too little water has health consequences. Excessive water intake can dilute the levels of critical electrolytes in the blood. Water intoxication is rare, however when it does happen, it can be deadly. On the other hand, having too little water in the body is common. In fact, diarrhea-induced dehydration is the number-one cause of early-childhood death worldwide. In this section we will discuss subtle changes in electrolytes that compromise health on a ch
    • 3.10: Water Concerns
      At this point you have learned how critical water is to support human life, how it is distributed and moved in the body, how fluid balance and composition is maintained, and the recommended amount of fluids a person should consume daily. In America you have a choice of thousands of different beverages. Which should you choose to receive the most health benefit and achieve your recommended fluid intake?
    • 3.11: Popular Beverage Choices
      Caffeine is a chemical called xanthine found in the seeds, leaves, and fruit of many plants, where it acts as a natural pesticide. It is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance and is such an important part of many people’s lives that they might not even think of it as a drug. Up to 90 percent of adults around the world use it on a daily basis. According to both the FDA and the American Medical Association the moderate use of caffeine is “generally recognized as safe.”