What Is Bicarbonate?

Bicarbonate is a type of electrolyte which is measured to give an estimation of the body’s acid-base balance or pH.[1]

What Role Does It Play in The Body?

Bicarbonate is an essential component of the physiological pH buffering system in the human body. Up to ¾ of the carbon dioxide in the human body is converted to carbonic acid which is quickly turned to bicarbonate. Bicarbonate is an alkali so helps to keep the acid-base balance of the body stable.

Bicarbonate alongside water, hydrogen, haemoglobin, phosphate and carbon dioxide makes up the buffering system which is required to act quickly if pH changes are detected. If bicarbonate levels are too high or too low, then this can suggest that the body is struggling to maintain its acid-base buffering system. This could be caused by an electrolyte imbalance or the inability to remove carbon dioxide – a waste product – from the body.[2]

How Does Bicarbonate Affect My Wellbeing?

A low bicarbonate result is common in people who have chronic kidney disease. Metabolic acidosis, an underlying cause of low serum bicarbonate, can cause inflammation, bone disease and protein-energy wasting.[3] Other causes such as chronic diarrhoea can make you feel unwell and can disrupt your electrolyte balance. Therefore, it is essential that you remain hydrated as dehydration can also affect your mental status as well as having harmful physical side effects.

Equally increased bicarbonate – due to a gain or loss of acid – can make you feel unwell. Ongoing vomiting - loss of acid - can be a cause of increased bicarbonate and can lead to dehydration.

Because of the overall cause of an increase or decrease in your bicarbonate levels you may also have a lack of energy, feel tired or experience a change in your mood.   

How Can I Improve My Result?

Our body needs electrolytes to keep our fluids balanced and they are needed so our cells can communicate with one another.

It is common to drain your electrolyte stores if you sweat a lot maybe during intense exercise or during periods of diarrhoea and vomiting or drinking huge amounts of water which contains no electrolytes. If you have recently been ill with diarrhoea and vomiting, there are rehydration therapy products available to buy from your local pharmacy. These contain the important electrolytes you may have lost as well as restoring your fluid loss too.   

Diet

Your diet should consist of plenty of whole foods and less junk or fast food. Eating fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables alongside lean cuts of meat can ensure a good nutrient intake.

Try eating more complex carbohydrates such as wholegrains, beans, legumes and vegetables. In the body, these complex carbs are turned into glucose (sugar) for energy and help to keep the body hydrated.

Exercise

Exercise is fundamental to living a healthy lifestyle. You should aim to complete 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. But in doing so you must always remember to keep yourself sufficiently hydrated. Every time we sweat, urinate, exercise even cry we are losing important fluid, so we need to make sure we replace it to keep our fluid levels balanced.

 


 

[1] Vaughan-Jones, R, D and Spitzer, K, W. (2002). Role of Bicarbonate in the Regulation of Intracellular pH in the Mammalian Ventricular Monocyte. Biochem Cell Biol: 80(5), pp 579-96.

[2] Seifter, J, L. (2014). Integration of Acid-Base and Electrolyte Disorders. The New England Journal of Medicine: 4(37), pp 1821-1831.

[3] Chang, T, I, Oh, H, J and Han, S, H. (2013). A Low Serum Bicarbonate Concentration as a Risk Factor for Mortality in Peritoneal Dialysis Patients. PLoS ONE: 8(12).