An electrolyte is a chemical compound that when dissolved in a polar solvent, such as water, produces an electrically conducting solution. When dissolved in a polar solvent, ionic compounds separate into cations and anions. Electrically, the solution is neutral.
When an electric potential is applied to the solution, the cations move towards the the electrode that has an abundance of electrons, while the anions move towards the electrode that has a deficit of electrons. This movement of anions and cations in opposite directions within the solution constitutes an electric current.
Examples of electrolytes: * Sodium chloride (NaCl) * Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) * Potassium chloride (KCl) * Hydrochloric acid (HCl), etc.
Electrolytes are important for the functioning of the body because:
* They conduct electricity, for muscle and nerve function
* They exert osmotic pressure and keep body fluids in their own compartments
* They maintain acid-base balance and act as buffers to maintain constant pH in body fluids
A large number of molecules present in the human body are not ionic and therefore do not produce electrical properties when dissolved in water. For e.g. glucose.