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Electrolytes and Organ Function

The importance of electrolytes, especially their balance and multiple organ functions cannot be overstated.  So which organs are dependent on the balance of our electrolytes? All of them. Today we will go over one of them, the heart.

Some of you might remember the frog’s leg experiments from junior high school. In it, a frog’s leg, in water, would have either sodium (table salt – NaCl) sprinkled on it or potassium (KCl). When sodium is put in, the leg would contract and when potassium is added, the leg would relax. Now think about the actions of the heart muscle. It contracts and relaxes in order to pump blood around the body. The contraction is known as the systolic phase of blood pressure and the diastolic is the relaxing phase.

As I mentioned in the previous blog about electrolyte balance, the Western diet takes in more sodium than necessary but even more troubling is the low potassium intake. If this were just an occasional problem, the effect on blood pressure would be minimal. The problem is, this is a chronic problem that people face over decades. Too many people neglect to get the right balance of electrolytes.

According to an article entitled “Worldwide epidemic of hypertension” published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology in 2006, they write the following “The World Health Report 2002 identified hypertension, or high blood pressure, as the third ranked factor for disability-adjusted life years. Hypertension is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death worldwide. Recent analyses have shown that as of the year 2000, there were 972 million people living with hypertension worldwide, and it is estimated that this number will escalate to more than 1.56 billion by the year 2025.”

Given this problem, what is the solution given our knowledge base? First off, we do need to reduce sodium intake. That is not a difficult thing to do if we’re willing to work on it. The number one method of reducing sodium is stop eating prepackaged, premade fast food. Most fast foods contain amounts of sodium that equal the daily recommended allowance of 2,400 milligrams. Cut that out and you go a long way in reducing systolic hypertension.

Second thing to do is to up your potassium intake. We should get about 4,700 milligrams but the typical Western diet only gets half. Increasing potassium intake means more fresh fruits and vegetables as well. Here is a list of the top ten foods with the highest levels of potassium per 100 grams.

White Beans

White beans are among the best foods that are rich in potassium.

White Beans, dark leafy greens, baked potatoes, dried apricots, baked acorn squash, yogurt (plain), fish like salmon, avocados, white mushrooms and bananas (maybe why the Minions are so relaxed).

Another way to increase potassium while not getting high amounts of sodium are the KTS Revive Electrolytes which have a 2-1 ratio of potassium over sodium.

Whatever you do when it comes to electrolytes, make sure that you follow the concept of balance.

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Electrolytes – Balance is Key – Part 1

One of the most asked questions I am posed with is what supplement(s) would I want to take with me on a desert island and my answer always remains the same, electrolytes. There are others I would bring along depending on how many things I could take like Vitamin C, trace minerals and definitely B-Complex vitamins (wouldn’t want pellagra, beriberi or anemia). Electrolytes though would always be number one.

A better question would be, ‘If you were dropped into a western, developed country, which supplement would you most want to make sure you have available?’ My answer would definitely be electrolytes with a bullet. The balance between two components of electrolytes, sodium and potassium, are as messed up in the Western diet as could be imagined.

Before we go much further, we need to define what electrolytes are. The standard definition is ‘any fluid that conducts, or has the ability to conduct electricity.’ Distilled water does not conduct electricity so would not be considered an electrolyte. Most soft drinks like Cola’s can be called an electrolyte but they are very poor conductors. So what about those sports drinks that are mass marketed? They probably are but they have lots of things in them like sugar and food colorings that are not helpful and for many people, detrimental. Your best choice for good electrolytes contain a balance of salts without sugars, additives or colorings.

Going back to the question of electrolytes and the Western diet, why you might ask, do I feel so strongly about its need? According to research, the average human needs 4,700 milligrams of potassium each day and 2,300 milligrams of sodium. In the typical Western diet, we get about 3,400 milligrams of sodium, slightly above recommendations, but the real kicker is that we only get about 2,400 milligrams of potassium, almost half of what we should be getting.

Today’s health monitors tell us that we need to reduce sodium intake because of its implication in coronary heart disease and in particular, high blood pressure (hypertension). Problem is, most studies done to measure the benefits of sodium reduction come up way short. Frankly, they tell us that reducing sodium intake really doesn’t do anything beneficial unless the amounts ingested are far greater than the average person takes in. Medicine seems to be stumped which astonishes me as they are missing the other side of the equation, potassium deficiency.

The DASH study is supposedly the be all reason why reducing sodium works so well but when you look at the diet, it dramatically increased potassium and magnesium, two of the minerals most deficient in the Western diet. While sodium reduction was the focus, I propose that it was the improved diets (vegetables, legumes and fruits) that helped the most as well of increasing the minerals we needed.

Every food we eat contains potassium so our bodies do not store this essential mineral very well. We don’t need to. Sodium on the other hand, is found in far fewer foods so we have evolved to retain this mineral. For millenium, salt, which is known as sodium chloride or NaCl, was an expensive commodity and not available to everyone. Today, it is loaded into almost every processed food and is a cheap condiment. Because of the West’s reliance on fast food for its convenience and easy availability, we are getting all the sodium we need. Potassium? Not so much.

Fruits, legumes and vegetables are abundant in potassium but that is what we tend to leave out of our diets. And we don’t do this for a few days a week, we do this year in and year out. Continuing to be deficient in potassium should be one of the main concerns in today’s Western diet but unfortunately it isn’t.

Next time, I will continue showing how important electrolyte balance is and what systems within the human body are most affected by imbalances.

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Magnesium and Heart Disease

Magnesium rich foods

Foods Rich in Magnesium

Back in 1988, I did my first medical/health talk and I mentioned two things that helped prevent heart disease, vinegar and magnesium. Vinegar has been used for over 2,000 years to help lower systolic blood pressure. One teaspoon in eight ounces of water twice a day will do the trick. Magnesium though, has a much shorter history but is equally important in heart health.

According to a Harvard University study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, increasing your intake of magnesium may lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 30%. Their conclusion was “Circulating and dietary magnesium are inversely associated with CVD risk, which supports the need for clinical trials to evaluate the potential role of magnesium in the prevention of CVD and IHD.” The way the authors put it, they made a monumental discovery. Truth be known though, we’ve known about this for decades. Back in 1995 for instance, Altura and Altura published a paper on magnesium and cardiovascular disease.

A friend of mine, Dr. Mark Houston, a renowned cardiologist from Nashville, Tennessee, has told me often that he is big on magnesium.  Most doctors though believe that all you need is a healthy diet and you will get enough magnesium. Only problem is, it just isn’t true. In the typical Western diet, 68% of people don’t get the RDA of magnesium which is a pretty low dose to begin with. and research over the years proves it. Here is a paper that sums things up nicely.

But before you think magnesium is a one trick pony, think again. This essential mineral is involved in over 300 different enzyme pathways and has been shown to help blood sugar control, hormone production and regulation as well as in brain health.

When choosing a supplemental form of magnesium, avoid magnesium oxide. to get maximum absorption, use amino acid chelates like glycinate or citrate. Whatever form you choose, get at least 400 milligrams a day and if you can, go to 600. If you do, your heart will thank you later.

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Zinc not necessary in sports nutrition?

I got an email this weekend from a trainer in Australia telling me that there is a sports doc out there who is against zinc supplementation. That got me thinking and wondering whether there is anything to it. What I came up with is that the doctor in question needs to start reading the literature instead of saying things that are just not right.

In the book, “Sports Nutrition: Minerals and Electrolytes” from CRC Press, edited by Kies and Driskell has a chapter on “Physical Exercise and Zinc Metabolism.” They looked at both acute and chronic exercise and levels before and after in erthyrocytes (red blood cells) as well as in plasma/serum. They report on the fact that “The presence of hypozincemia (low zinc) in trained athletes has since been reported…”

Another interesting comment is on vegetarian athletes, “Therefore, with prolonged suboptimal zinc status, it would be predicted that muscle zinc levels in vegetarians would decrease, with resulting reduced muscle strength and endurance.” Note the last part of the statement which suggests that low zinc would result in lower muscle strength and endurance.” So for a sports doctor to conclude that zinc supplementation is “BS”, would come from a lack of understanding of the physiology of minerals and athletics.

Some of their conclusions include:
“Acute, as well as chronic, exercise induces an alteration in zinc distribution in human blood.”
“An increase in erthyrocyte CA-I-derived zinc concentration and/or a decrease in plasma albumin-bound zinc concentration may portend hypozincemia during physical training.”
In the 4 page chapter, they cite 71 references.
Makes one wonder why the sports doctor is against supplementation when it is clear that exercise will diminish zinc levels. While there are increases in intracellular levels post-exercise, total plasma and whole blood show decreases.
So, for those of you who wonder whether zinc supplementation is warranted as part of a good sports nutrition program, the answer is yes.
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Sodium Potassium Balance & Muscle Groups

At my last Art and Science of Biochemical Individuality class in the UK, I taught a segment on the influence of sodium and potassium on balanced appearance and muscle groups. This concept was originally taught to me by my mentor, the late John Kitkoski. The idea that you can determine electrolyte balance based on appearance has wide implications and can help find out why some individuals may have problems building certain muscle groups.

The first step in determining imbalances in sodium and potassium is to look a t a persons face. The left side is influenced by sodium and the right side by potassium. If the persons left side is drooping, consider a sodium deficiency (not as rare as you may think). Conversely, if the right side is droopy, then consider a potassium deficiency (very common). One of the best ways to practice this is to watch news anchors and reporters as they typically stare straight into the camera..

The next idea is understand how sodium and potassium affect muscles. Some of you might remember the frog leg experiment from junior high school. When a sodium solution is poured on the frog’s leg, it contracts. When a potassium solution is poured on it, it relaxes. Hence, sodium is important in muscle contraction and potassium is important in muscle relaxation. Bear this in mind when you look at which muscle group sodium and potassium control.

Sodium is important in the both the bicep and hamstring while potassium is important in the tricep and quadricep. Sometimes, when someone has a problem developing one of these muscle groups, their electrolyte balance is off. One caveat is that working on specific electrolytes can easily cause an imbalance which is why I always recommend a balanced electrolyte solution. This is why I developed the Synerplex electrolyte series as I believe that electrolyte balance is key to optimal health and performance.

Next blog, I will talk about the importance of electrolyte balance in adrenal function as well as the reason why humans developed a mechanism to retain sodium but not potassium.

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Selenium and the Flu

Selenium can become one of your best friends when it comes to preventing your getting, fighting off, or helping to recover faster from the flu. Not only that, but it looks like selenium may benefit people suffering from other viruses such as HIV/AIDS. There are many other positive health outcomes from the use of selenium but I will concentrate on the flu in today’s blog.

What scientists have discovered is that selenium deficient animals were far more likely to come down with an infectious disease than their selenium rich cohorts. While this is not surprising as I have mentioned in the past on how any trace mineral deficiency makes people much more susceptible to illness. The first health issue that crops up when you are mineral deficient is that your immune system suffers. But, the findings that have come out of scientific research recently are fascinating when it comes to selenium.

What was found was that those animals who were selenium deficient were far more likely to develop a more virulent form of the virus than those with adequate selenium. The mechanism behind why this happens is two-fold. The first is a well known process revolving around the minerals stimulation of the antioxidant glutathione. Increased glutathione production is essential to a healthy immune system so this comes as no surprise. It is the second mechanism that has researchers fascinated.

It seems that viruses that cause the flu are selenium scavengers, needing the trace mineral to survive and replicate. You must be saying to yourself, ‘ Wait, why are we feeding the virus?’. The answer may surprise you. The viruses are simply trying to keep themselves happy and well fed. When they don’t get enough selenium to accomplish that feat, the get angry or in immunological terms, more virulent. Feed them adequate selenium and they are less likely to mutate and become dangerous.

So what dose do I recommend? For a standard daily dose, 125 micrograms seems to do the trick. When confronted with a viral exposure, you need to up the dose to between 1 and 2 milligrams. Pair that up with some other glutathione precursors like n-acetyl-cysteine and vitamin C and you got a powerful immune booster. Don’t forget to add vitamin D to your pre-flu regime and if you get it, you’ll be over it in no time.

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