Although it might be crazy to think about, living tissue conducts and generates electricity similar to that of the batteries we put in common household appliances. An interesting test that can be done to demonstrate this is the “electric pickle” test:
For those of us still not convinced, another test can be done that involves an actual human being (a healthy dose of skepticism can be a good thing) as can be seen Here.
The amount is electricity produced by the human body is minute compared to that of an electrical eel and matter of fact most of the electrical energy and about 60% of the biochemical energy we produce from food Calories is lost as heat to maintain core body temperature. Rather than energy production, the real importance of bioelectricity revolves around maintaining normal heart beat, cell signaling, nerve impulse transmission, and muscular contraction.
The substances involved in the above processes are the electrolytes sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl–), magnesium (Mg2+), calcium (Ca2+), hydrogen phosphate (HPO42-), and hydrogen carbonate (HCO3–). Electrolytes are ions (an atom or molecule of which the number of electrons is not equal to the number of protons) and exist either as anions (negatively charged) or cations (positively charged). Interestingly enough the “+” symbol is representative of an ion with less electrons than protons and the “-“ symbol is indicative of an ion with more electrons than protons.
This article is going to focus on the electrolytes sodium and potassium since some of the others (notably calcium) will require more depth in future articles. With the pickle being a primary example, a big contributor of sodium in our diets is salt which is of course sodium chloride or NaCl. The health concern with sodium is because it attracts water and since the concentration of sodium in our bodies is greater outside of the cells (in the blood), fluid retention or increased blood pressure in our vessels will result.
In theory, it makes perfect sense that we should consume a diet that is lower in sodium to prevent such a problem from occurring (rather than take blood pressure medications) but more current research has uncovered that only certain individuals may be classified as “salt sensitive” which means that the ingestion of salty foods causes problematic fluctuations in blood pressure and yet other individuals remain unaffected no matter how much salt they consume. At this time it is still encouraged by the CDC that we intake a maximum of 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day (1,500 mg for those people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease and if African American or 51 years or older).
To have the most significant impact on improving our blood pressure, weight loss is recommended if overweight as well as increasing our physical activity to at least 2.5 hours weekly at moderate intensity. Of course we could also increase the amount of potassium in our diets to combat the negative effects of sodium (got to love those fruits and veggies). The electrolyte potassium enjoys the comfort of being inside of our bodies’ cells rather than in the blood stream and it works in opposition of sodium by lowering blood pressure and decreasing heart rate (which can be a bad thing in pathological amounts so don’t go crazy with potassium supplements).
There is a diet called the DASH diet which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and it touts that the consumption of 8 –12 fruits and vegetables daily can decrease both diastolic and systolic blood pressure in moderate or pre-hypertensive individuals in as little as 14 days without the need to decrease sodium intake (and has been scientifically validated). The reason the DASH diet is successful is because plant foods are amongst our greatest sources for dietary potassium (whole grains included) and therefore such dietary change can greatly benefit us salty meat and cheese eaters (and processed foods, salty nuts…fans of Asian cuisine rejoice!). Another option is to grab for the sodium free salt at the nearby grocery store with is simply potassium chloride (KCl) instead of sodium chloride. The daily potassium recommendation per the CDC is 4,700 mg daily.
So where do sodium and potassium meet and how do they interact? Back to these two electrolytes being positively charged cations, they are involved in a cellular mechanism called the sodium-potassium exchanged pump or Na+/K+-ATPase. This is an active transport mechanism (explained further) where three sodium ions are “pumped” out of the cell by following a concentration gradient (sodium prefers being “outdoors”) and two potassium ions are pumped into the cell (more of a home body).
This is very important for allowing nutrients such as glucose and amino acids to get into the cell to be used for energy or the creation of structural proteins as well as maintaining proper voltage or so-called membrane potential between the interior and exterior of a cell (negatively charged chloride ions are also important here). It is an active transport mechanism in the fact that ATP or Adenosine Tri-Phosphate is required to initiate the process. For those of us who can recall from some of the B-vitamins articles, our cells convert food Calories into stored energy through the Kreb’s Cycle and electron transport chain which take place in an organelle called the mitochondria.
On the molecular level, this energy is stored in the aforementioned molecule ATP for later use (a molecule of which is continuously created as we metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and protein). Certain processes in the body require energy (thus ATP) to make energy with the sodium-potassium exchange pump being just one active transport mechanism (luckily other processes only require passive diffusion which spares ATP).
The bottom line, these electrolytes are absolutely vital to our survival and a deficiency of either or would result in catastrophic organ system and cellular changes such as cellular lysis (breaking apart of cells due to high or low osmolality – differences in substance concentrations), irregular heartbeat, wild swings in blood pressure, renal failure, symptoms related to dehydration such as headache, rapid breathing, fever, and delirium, and symptoms related to overhydration such as confusion, fatigue, muscle weakness or cramps, nausea and vomiting, and seizures.
It may be a good time to review “Water-The Elixir of Life” to determine just how much water is appropriate per day. Sports drinks or oral rehydration solutions such as Pedialyte can be useful if severely sick (diarrhea and vomiting) or if engaging in a very vigorous physical activity for an hour or greater in order to maintain proper electrolyte balance. For those of us not too fond of high price tags, there are recipes online for making our own oral rehydration solutions that you can find here.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_eel; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_energy;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion#Anions_and_cations; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolyte; http://hyper.ahajournals.org/content/27/3/481.full; http://www.cdc.gov/salt/; http://dashdiet.org/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Na%2B/K%2B-ATPase; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Membrane_potential; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003935/; http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/sodium/; http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/potassium/; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/basics/symptoms/con-20030056