Rapid or extreme weight loss can cause an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes are substances that become ions in solution and gain the ability to conduct electricity. They include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and phosphate. Electrolyte imbalances can have serious health consequences. They affect the amount of water in your body, muscle function, blood acidity and other important processes.
Electrolyte losses have been implicated as a possible cause for fatalities among people following liquid-protein diets, according to a study in the "International Journal of Obesity." However, supplementation with electrolytes while following a very-low-calorie diet may prevent this occurrence, states a study in the "Journal of the National Medical Association." Participants followed a very-low-calorie liquid diet supplemented with 600mg of calcium, 600mg of potassium chloride, 350mg of phosphorus, 150mg of magnesium and other vitamins, minerals and trace elements. These subjects only experienced mild electrolyte changes. Very-low-calorie diets should only be conducted under the supervision of a health care provider because of the health risks.
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Calcium supplementation significantly increases weight loss and fat loss among people who are dieting, according to a study in "Obesity Research." Researcher Michael B. Zemel and colleagues also found that people who ate more dairy products lost even more weight and fat than those taking calcium supplements. Take supplements under the supervision of a health care provider.
Obesity is associated with hypertension or high blood pressure, which increases risk of heart disease, stroke and renal disease. Weight loss may be associated with a decrease in blood pressure, possibly because of decreased sodium intake, according to a American Heart Association article in "Hypertension."
People with anorexia nervosa show low potassium levels in their blood serum, especially with excessive weight loss, in addition to reduced levels of sodium and chloride, according to a study in "Nutrition Reviews." High potassium intake corrects these abnormalities. People with bulimia also experience electrolyte imbalances, according to a study published in "Psychological Medicine" by James E. Mitchell and colleagues. They may most commonly experience metabolic alkalosis, or excess bicarbonate; hypochloremia, or low chloride; and hypokalemia, or low potassium.
If electrolyte levels become too low, possibly as a result of an eating disorder or very-low-calorie diet, there can be serious health consequences. Low potassium, or hypokalemia, can cause increased blood sugar, fatigue, confusion and muscle weakness and cramps, according to the Merck Manual of Health and Aging. Paralysis and abnormal heart rhythms can result if levels are very low. Low sodium, or hyponatremia, can lead to confusion, drowsiness, muscle weakness and seizures. Get immediate medical treatment if you show any symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance.
- PubMed: Fatalities on the Liquid-Protein Diet
- Journal of the National Medical Association: Effect of Rapid Weight Loss with Supplemented Fasting on Serum Electrolytes, Lipids and Blood Pressure
- Cambridge Journals Online: Electrolyte and Other Physiological Abnormalities in Patients with Bulimia
- Hypertension: Weight Loss and Blood Pressure Control (Pro)
- Obesity Research: Calcium and Dairy Acceleration of Weight and Fat Loss during Energy Restriction in Obese Adults
- Merck: Problems With Electrolyte Balance