Hangovers – Electrolytes

Last week, we talked about what a hangover is, what its symptoms are and why hangovers cause headaches. This week, we’ll take a brief look at the importance of electrolytes in relation to hangovers.

A little recap

A little while ago, we talked about how alcohol inhibits a hormone called the antidiuretic hormone, which is the hormone that allows the body to reabsorb water from our kidneys before the kidneys send the final solution to our bladders for release. With this inhibition, not only is there not enough water reabsorbed but, because this hormone is inhibited, we urinate frequently under the influence of alcohol.

Now where do electrolytes fit in?

As a result of this frequent urination, we lose more than just water from our bodies. In addition to water, we lost electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

These electrolytes are important for several processes in our bodies, including nerve and muscle functions. When you lose a lot of electrolytes, your nerve and muscle functions are weaker as they require the electrolytes to help propagate signals. This is why you feel tired the morning after a rowdy night.

The absence of electrolytes also leaves you feeling nauseous and with an awful headache because of how dehydrated you are.

Help me, what can I do?

There was a post I did a million years ago (it was last July) where I talked a bit about electrolytes. Here’s the deal with them: where electrolytes go, water goes. So it’s time to power up with some electrolytes because the more electrolytes there are in your body, the better your body will retain water and the easier it will be to rehydrate! So grab some sports drinks, make sure it has some potassium in it, and rehydrate! You’ll feel like a normal being soon enough 🙂

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The Urinary System – Concentration and Dilution

Last time, we talked about how the urinary system allows for our bodies to selectively reabsorbs things that were filtered out of our circulatory system. One of the molecules that can be reabsorbed is water, which is an important molecule for several reasons. In terms of the urinary system, water is important for the concentration and dilution of our urine.

The concentration and the dilution of urine is regulated by 2 hormones: Anti-diuretic hormone and Aldosterone.

The anti-diuretic hormone is released if you’re dehydrated, and literally translates to “against the passing of urine”. In situations where you are dehydrated, your blood volume will be low due to the lack of a sufficient amount of water, resulting in a lower blood pressure. To counteract this, the anti-diuretic acts to reduce the amount of water lost by the body and minimizes how much urine you make and release. This will result in a more concentrated urine that has a less water than usual and is a deeper yellow due to the higher concentration of urea.

Aldosterone is also released when you’re dehydrated. This hormone is responsible for the increase in thirst while also helping your body retain water by increasing the amount of sodium in your body. The more solute there is in your body, the more likely water is to stay with the solute (rules of osmosis, hurray!).

These hormones exert their effects primarily on the distal tubule of the nephron (after the loop of Henle), so that is where the water is reabsorbed!

So when these hormones are released, your urine will be more concentrated because water is retained by your body! Amazing, right?

Next week: We will finally get to talking about the effect of Alcohol on Urine!

Is there something you’d like to learn about? Tell me about it here and I may just do a post about it 🙂

The Urinary System – Basics

Before we can talk about how alcohol affects your urinary system, it’s important to understand the urinary system and how it usually works first. This will be a pretty general overview, though I will also provide a molecular overview of the system next week!

So let’s start learning about how urine is made!

The Urine Pathway

The organs involved in your urinary system:

  • Liver – synthesizes urea and releases it into the blood
  • Kidneys – filters the blood for urea, sodium, bicarbonate and water. If they are high levels of any of them, the kidneys will divert them from the bloodstream, and produces urine.
  • Bladder – the products of urine move from the kidney to your bladder, then to the urethra to be released.

The bladder actually has two muscles that control the release of urine: the internal and external sphincter. The internal sphincter relaxes on its own accord, thanks to your sympathetic nervous system. It is the external sphincter that helps you control whether you pee your pants or not.

And those are the basics of the urinary system! Next week, we’ll be looking at the detailed pathway (for you keeners (: ).

Electrolytes

Whenever you’re dehydrated, or experiencing the stomach flu or diarrhea, you hear people telling you the importance of restoring your body’s electrolytes. But what are electrolytes and where can you obtain them from?

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes, also known as minerals, are ions that occur in your body.

Okay… what’s an ion?

Chemistry time, folks!

Each chemical atom or molecule has a specific number of negatively charged particles, electrons, associated with it. When the number of electrons of the atom/molecule deviates from  its usual number, it becomes charged. It can either be charged positively by losing electrons, or negatively by gaining electrons. Any charged atom or molecule is known as an ion.

Examples of minerals that occur in our bodies are:

  • sodium (Na+)
  • potassium (K+)
  • chloride (Cl)
  • calcium (Ca2+)
  • magnesium (Mg2+)
  • bicarbonate (HCO3)
  • phosphate (PO42-)
  • sulfate (SO42-)**

Why do we need electrolytes?

Electrolytes are essential for our motor skills as well as other nerve impulses and muscle contractions (including the beating of your heart!). They also affect how much water is in your body, and the acidity of your blood. They are important because they carry electric charges.

Replenishing electrolytes

Dehydration, which can result from the stomach flu, diarrhea and even profuse sweating, represents a state where a lot water has been lost. Electrolytes accompany this mass of water that leaves our systems, which is why we are told to replenish them. Without electrolytes, we are slower and weaker because they are so important to our biological processes.

People usually recommend drinking sports drinks to raise the level of electrolytes (and fluids) in your system when you are dehydrated, but this really does depend on why you are dehydrated! If you are dehydrated as a result of exercising, then a sports drink is fine. For cases where you are dehydrated as a result of the stomach flu or diarrhea, it’s suggested that you drink an oral electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte® in place of a sports drink.

Sports drinks have a high concentration of sugars, which will irritate you when you have a stomach flu and worsen diarrhea as it will draw more water into your bowels. Pedialyte doesn’t use sucrose, which is the sugar found in all Gatorade® products and most Powerade® products. Gatorade is strictly a sports drink because of its sucrose levels, but I’m going to hand it to Powerade because they’ve introduced Powerade Zero which has no sugar whatsoever, which makes it a great candidate for an electrolyte replenisher.

All of these drinks typically focus on sodium and potassium as electrolytes. Why are these two electrolytes so important? That’s a story for another day.