Do Electrolyte Pills Help Prevent Electrolyte Imbalances Due to Purging?

By October 31, 2012

Thank you for your great service. It is very helpful to many. I had a question regarding electrolyte balance. I know that purging can throw off a person’s electrolyte balance. I am a runner and on long runs, I take electrolyte pills to preserve sodium and potassium levels to prevent cramping (I get them at sports nutrition stores). I typically purge once or twice a week, but over the holidays it has been most days. I am hoping to get help soon for it, I know it is not right or healthy. Even with getting help, I know it will take some time to cut out all the purging. Would these electrolyte pills help prevent electrolyte imbalances due to purging? – SC

Dear SC,

Thank you for your question. You are entirely correct in assuming that purging can cause electrolyte imbalances. Both high potassium and low potassium levels can be associated with purging and both can be very dangerous, causing cardiac arrhythmias and worse. Taking the electrolyte pills can give you a false sense of confidence and only by monitoring your blood potassium levels can one know for sure that your potassium levels are ok. Electrolyte pills found at a nutritional store can be unregulated. It is imperative that you be under the care of a medical professional to monitor your electrolytes and that you also seek help with a health provider for therapy. I hope the best in your recovery.

Tom Scales, MD


Dear SC,

I just want to reinforce Dr. Scales’ recommendation that you seek a medical evaluation. Messing with electrolytes is serious and potentially lethal, and there is no one-size-fits all dosage for those who need replacement. Since you are a runner, I also think you would benefit from a consultation with a sports nutritionist, if there is one available in your area. See “Finding a Nutritionist” for some guidance. You don’t give details regarding the frequency and length of your runs, but I am concerned that you might be using exercise as another form of “purging” calories. An experienced sports nutritionist would help you assess your behaviors, and find a place of health and balance.

In addition to your physical needs, however, I am concerned for your emotional well being. A richer, fuller life awaits you, free of purging. I urge you to follow through on Dr. Scales’ advice that you seek counseling with a therapist who specializes in disordered eating. You can check out “Finding Treatment” for options.

Take good care of yourself, and don’t delay!