The balance of electrolytes in the body is maintained by a function called homeostasis. Homeostasis is the body's ability to adjust and maintain normal functioning despite constant changes in blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, electrolytes, hormones, and countless other frequently changing physiological dynamics. Blood levels of sodium and potassium are among the electrolytes constantly corrected by a complex series of events, from hormone adjustments to cellular involvement. The kidneys and other organs play roles in these functions..
Diagnosis of sodium and potassium levels are determined with a blood test, which is usually performed at your doctor's office, outpatient laboratory or a hospital. Abnormal levels of sodium and potassium can lead to critical health issues involving many systems of the body, including the heart and brain. Never attempt to self-diagnose abnormal electrolyte levels. If you feel that a problem exists, consult your physician for correct diagnosis and treatment.
According to MayoClinic.com, normal potassium levels range between 3.6 to 4.8mEq/L. An elevated level of potassium is called hyperkalemia and decreased levels are called hypokalemia. Potassium is located primarily intracellularly, or within the cell. Abnormal potassium in the bloodstream can cause serious health effects, including heart arrhythmia, weakness, fatigue and cramping. This can be caused by kidney dysfunction, abnormal hormone secretion, and medications such as potassium-sparing diuretics. Hypokalemia can result from excessive nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as from medications, alcoholism and certain diseases such as congestive heart failure.
Sources of Potassium
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, adequate daily potassium for adults 19 years of age and older is 4700mg per day. Foods high in potassium include bananas, potatoes, plums, raisins and prunes. Many salt substitutes contain large amounts of potassium and therefore should be used cautiously. Use potassium supplementation only under the supervision of your health care provider.
Normal sodium levels are between 135 to 145mEq/L. An elevated serum sodium level is called hypernatremia while decreased levels are called hyponatremia. Sodium is located primarily extracellularly, or outside of the cell. Excessive sodium has been noted to lead to an increased propensity to certain diseases, such as gastric cancer, osteoporosis, kidney stones and high blood pressure. An acute decrease in the serum sodium levels can cause confusion, lethargy, and in severe cases, coma. Hypernatremia can result from excessive salt in the diet, diarrhea, burns or certain medications such as diuretics. Hyponatremia can be symptomatic of congestive heart failure, kidney disease, hormonal imbalance and dehydration, among others.
Sources of Sodium
The Linus Pauling Institute states that adequate daily sodium intake is 1.5g for adults 19 to 50 years old; 1.3g for adults ages 51 to 70; and 1.2g for people ages 71 years and older. Most salt is acquired from foods to which salt is added during the manufacturing and preserving process. Unprocessed fruits, vegetables and legumes are typically low in sodium. Foods such as packaged meats and soft drinks are usually high in sodium content and should be consumed with caution, especially in large amounts.