Chloride is an essential trace mineral for human life, crucial for digestion, hormone secretions, carbon dioxide distribution, and acid-base balance in the blood. It inhibits excessive fat and autointoxication and facilitates nerve transmissions and kidney function. Chloride partners with other electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium to work throughout all our internal systems. The body excretes chloride rapidly, however, and the mineral must be replaced daily to maintain proper metabolic balance.
What Is Chloride?
Chloride is an electrolyte — a mineral that carries an electric charge. It is the most abundant anion in the body, present in many chemicals and bodily fluids, and is an integral component in some enzymes and proteins. Just a few of the ways chloride functions in the body include
- pH balance in the blood,
- body fluid regulation,
- nerve impulse conduction, and
- making hydrochloric acid which is necessary for digestion.
It’s Not Chlorine
The mineral chloride is vastly different from the element chlorine, a reactive gas that does not naturally occur in a free elemental state. Chloride is related to chlorine; it is a by-product of a reaction between the gas and an electrolyte like sodium, magnesium, or potassium. While isolated chlorine gas is toxic, chloride salts are vital to sustaining human life.
How We Get Chloride
We obtain dietary chloride primarily through salt, which is composed of sodium and chloride ions, and foods. A healthy gastrointestinal tract absorbs most of the chloride and excretes the excess, maintaining optimal levels of chloride in the blood. The amount slightly decreases after meals because the stomach uses chloride from the blood to produce hydrochloric acid.
Chloride in Foods
In addition to table or sea salt, sources of chloride include many vegetables and other foods such as
- green leafy vegetables,
- whole grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and
- fruits such as pineapple, and melon.
Potassium chloride is present in many foods as well. This compound is often the primary ingredient in salt substitutes.
Lysosomes are organelles that break down and recycle cellular components. When they do not work efficiently, lysosomal storage disorders and neurodegenerative diseases result. Researchers at the University of Chicago discovered lysosomes contain high levels of chloride that have a direct, positive correlation to the function of the organelles.
Chloride deficiency is rare, and people with this issue can develop alkalosis, a potentially fatal condition. The deficiency results from an excessive loss of sodium through heavy secretions of body fluids induced by sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. Symptoms include loss of appetite, muscle weakness, profound lethargy, dehydration, and irritability. Excess water intake, wasting conditions, and severe bodily burns can cause hypochloremia. The medical journal Pediatrics reports that infants who receive chloride-deficient formula are at a higher risk of weakness and failure to thrive in their first year of life. Congestive heart failure, chronic lung disease, hyperaldosteronism, Addison’s disease, and metabolic acidosis also contribute to low chloride levels.
Chloride and Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder caused by the malfunction of a gene that determines how the body makes a certain protein. This protein, cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR), helps balance chloride levels. When it does not work properly, mucus and other body fluids become dangerously unbalanced and thickened, forming heavy coats inside the lungs and air passageways.
A healthy body normally eliminates excess chloride in sweat, urine, and bowels. Consuming too much salt or potassium chloride can produce toxic effects such as high blood pressure and fluid retention. Too much chloride in the blood may cause an electrolyte imbalance or hyperchloremia; extreme cases produce symptoms such as dehydration, diarrhea, and vomiting. High chloride levels can result in or from diabetes and fluctuating blood glucose levels. Diabetic coma and kidney disorders may follow. Medications like diuretics, corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ammonium chloride, androgens, and estrogens may cause hyperchloremia as well. Congestive heart failure impairs the metabolism of sodium chloride, potentially leading to chloride toxicity.
Tests for Chloride
Doctors can measure chloride levels with various blood tests such as the Cl or serum chloride test, basic metabolic panel, comprehensive metabolic panel, and electrolytes-urine test. An abnormal level is not always an indication of a condition. The University of Rochester Medical Center affirms that several factors may affect chloride levels, and each testing lab uses different methods that impact results. The doctor will evaluate test results to determine the next steps in treatment.
Chloride is widely available in foods, beverages, and condiments that include common table salt or the naturally occurring form of the mineral. Medical advice should precede any supplementation. Doctors typically prescribe dietary sources in cases of deficiency. However, physicians may recommend chloride supplements for active, healthy adults.