Thursday, October 19, 2017

Electrolytes and Muscle Function: What's the Connection? - Full Article

By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 27, 2017

Electrolytes are necessary for normal muscle contraction and relaxation. “When electrolytes become depleted or imbalanced, fatigue and muscle cramps can result,” says Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Muscles contract with the help of an electrical charge. This contraction, in physiological terms, is called an action potential and is essential to create movement. Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals that facilitate action potentials. Electrolytes can carry a positive (cation) or negative (anion) charge, and dissolve in body water to create a solution that can conduct electricity, although the solution itself is electrically neutral. Sodium is the major cation found outside of cells, while potassium is the primary cation found inside of cells, along with calcium and magnesium. Major anions in the body include chloride, bicarbonate, and phosphates. The body tightly regulates the concentration of each electrolyte. Because electrolytes help conduct electrical charges, balance is a key component of proper muscle function.

A horse’s sweat is heavily concentrated with electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium). For this reason, heavily sweating horses lose substantial amounts of electrolytes during prolonged exercise. If losses are great enough, a disruption in the balance of electrical charge both inside and outside of a muscle cell can upset normal contraction and relaxation processes...

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