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Electrolytes are molecules dissociated into cations and anions when fused or in solution and thus become capable of conducting electricity. The major cations in body fluids are sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium; the most important anions are bicarbonate, chloride, phosphate and sulfate.

The type and concentration of electrolytes contained in a particular body fluid can vary according to the location and function of the fluid. For example, sodium is the most common cation in extracellular fluid, while chloride is the most common anion. In intracellular fluid, potassium is the most common cation and phosphate is the most common anion.

Electrolytes function by controlling the flow of water through cell membranes. Water moves from an area of low electrolyte concentration on one side of a cell membrane to an area of high electrolyte concentration on the other side of the membrane. This process is known as osmosis.

Ingelfinger, F.J. 1980. Dorlands Medical Dictionary. Saunders Press Pub., Philadelphia. 740.

Kreutner, Patricia A. 1980. Nutrition In Perspective. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs. 665.


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