The Importance of Electrolytes When Living with Diabetes

June 07,2022 |
Woman holding a water bottle.

People living with diabetes need to plan, manage, and track their food and beverage consumption for optimal functioning. It’s also essential to maintain a healthy, stable blood sugar level. With that being said, there’s more to diabetes management than checking your blood sugar levels and administering the appropriate medication. Eating a nourishing diet and getting plenty of exercise also helps lower your blood sugar levels naturally. Yet, to avoid negative consequences, proper hydration is something you should be proactive about. To learn more about how blood sugar levels, dehydration, and your body’s essential minerals are all interconnected, we’ll discuss the importance of electrolytes when living with diabetes.


What are Electrolytes?

Your body is composed of millions of different vitamins and minerals, each of which help maintain homeostasis and fuel cellular functioning. Electrolytes are a subtype of essential minerals that help your body absorb fluids. They can help regulate muscle contraction, balance your body’s pH levels, and keep you hydrated throughout the day. Electrolytes are lost when we exercise or use the bathroom, so it’s important to replenish them regularly. Some of the essential types of electrolytes include sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, phosphate, magnesium, and bicarbonate.


Sodium is primarily responsible for keeping your cells fluid retention at balanced levels. It’s also essential for the absorption of nutrients. While it’s important to monitor your salt intake to encourage good cardiovascular health, sodium is still the most abundant electrolyte in the human body. In cases where you have too much sodium, you may experience behavioral changes, a loss of muscle control, or more. If sodium levels are too low, individuals often experience irritability, weakened reflexes, confusion, nausea, and more.


Magnesium is the electrolyte that’s responsible for energy conversions at the cellular level. If your magnesium is unbalanced and you have an abundance in your body, it can severely affect your cardiovascular system. Excess magnesium can lead to arrhythmias, a decreased ability to breathe, and even cardiac arrest. Magnesium deficiencies can also have similar effects.


Potassium has an inverse relationship with the sodium in your body. As sodium enters a cell, potassium leaves it to create a delicate balance that works in harmony with each other. Imbalances in potassium levels can result in very serious heart problems, so it’s important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor such as muscle weakness, cramps, confusion, arrhythmias, being unusually thirsty, increased urination, dizziness, and more. If you’re worried about your potassium levels, talk to your doctor about undergoing a blood test.

Other essential electrolytes like calcium, chloride, phosphate, and bicarbonate have similar roles within your body. These electrolytes control muscles, help transmit signals throughout your nerves, manage your cardiovascular system, help cells maintain homeostasis, balance the pH levels within your body, transport chemicals, and metabolize nutrients. They’re the ions that help your body function its best and can be severely offset if you suffer from an underlying condition or experience extreme bouts of dehydration. If you’re worried about electrolyte imbalances, talk to your doctor about undergoing blood tests to measure your levels and determine how to correct any deficiencies or abundances.


What Causes Electrolyte Imbalances?

Dehydration and low electrolytes tend to go hand-in-hand, which is why you should make sure you’re getting enough fluids each day. However, there are plenty of other causes of electrolyte imbalance that you should be aware of. Some of the reasons that you may experience an electrolyte imbalance include:

  • Diuretics
  • Blood pressure medicine
  • Chemotherapy medicines
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Laxatives
  • Antacids
  • Antihistamines
  • Alcoholism
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Type 1 diabetes

Electrolyte levels fluctuate throughout the day, but if they get too high or too low, you’ll likely experience associated symptoms. Some of the signs that you’re experiencing a severe electrolyte imbalance include muscle cramps, headache, nausea, fatigue, weakness, irregular heartbeat, change in blood pressure, fast heartbeat, or seizures. See your doctor right away if you think you may have an imbalance. The diagnostic tests are straightforward and will check associated systems to monitor for signs of damage. If you’re living with diabetes and experience any signs of diabetic ketoacidosis, go to the hospital as soon as possible.


The Link Between Type 1 Diabetes and Electrolyte Imbalances

One of the most common side effects of living with diabetes is seemingly endless dehydration, an unquenchable thirst, and dry mouth. This occurs due to how your body responds to high blood sugar levels. Consider the connection between type 1 diabetes and electrolyte imbalances below.

Diabetes and Dehydration

As they say, as soon as you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, which is why it’s best to continually drink water in small increments throughout the day. While dehydration might not cause big problems in healthy individuals, those who are living with diabetes are at risk for large spikes in blood pressure that can increase your chance of further complications. During dehydration, the amount of sugar in your bloodstream doesn’t change, but the ratio of sugar to water does. This leads to higher concentrations of glucose in the blood stream. This is what raises your blood sugar levels, which in turn increases your risk of diabetes related issues.

What is Diabetes Thirst?

The term diabetes thirst is used to explain times when your body loses too much water for the amount of sugar currently in your bloodstream. Due to the ongoing stress placed on kidneys, individuals with diabetes may continue to feel thirsty even if they try to stay hydrated throughout the day. Diabetes thirst will continue as long as you have a high blood sugar, which is why administering the proper treatment is essential to reducing the impact of dehydration on your body.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication of diabetes that occurs after elongated periods of high blood sugar. This can happen more rapidly when individuals are dehydrated, due to the imbalance of sugar and water in the bloodstream.

DKA is more common in individuals with type 1 diabetes, but it can occur in those with type 2 diabetes as well. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when your body begins to burn fat for fuel, due to the inability to absorb sugar for energy use. While ketosis is used by individuals today for dieting purposes, the acidic byproduct it produces—ketones—can result in serious complications for those living with diabetes.

The influx of acid in the bloodstream caused by ketone buildup is what leads to diabetic ketoacidosis. DKA further results in an extreme loss of fluids, which can lead to shock. If left untreated, this can result in severe headaches, muscle stiffness, vomiting, and even diabetic coma.


Staying Hydrated with Diabetes

While hydration is important for everyone, you need to take special care to avoid dehydration if you’re living with diabetes. Since dehydration can cause a spike in blood pressure, which can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, try to be proactive about fluid and electrolyte consumption throughout the day. The best way to stay hydrated is to drink enough water each day. Women should aim to consume about 1.6 liters of water while men should try to drink at least 2 liters of water per day. More water should be consumed if you’re exercising strenuously or in warm environments that cause you to sweat.

To help keep electrolytes balanced and working efficiently, add natural enhancements to your water. One of the best options is to add a little fresh lemon or lime. Your doctor may also recommend electrolyte supplements if you suffer from chronic deficiencies.

The Negative Effects of Sports Drinks

While the labels are tempting when you need to replenish your electrolytes, sports drinks can do more harm than good. In fact, you should be cautious about consuming any type of sports drinks if you’re living with diabetes. Sports drinks are often laden with added sugars that can further increase your blood sugar and cause problems with your diabetes. While sugar-free options don’t have noticeable impacts on blood sugar levels, the artificial sweeteners are not recommended in large quantities due to unknown long-term health effects. Instead, try to get your hydration and electrolytes from natural sources.


About Byram Healthcare and Apria

Since 1968, Byram Healthcare has been helping to improve health outcomes and affordability of care for people managing their chronic conditions at homeFor those living with type 2 diabetes, we have a range of continuous blood glucose monitors. We also offer diabetes support and educational materials to give you everything you need for comprehensive care. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, Apria offers a comprehensive range of products and services for respiratory therapy and obstructive sleep apnea treatment. Apria is part of the Byram Healthcare family.