Nerve cells called neurons in your brain and spinal cord function to transmit and receive signals to and from other neurons in your body. These specialized cells transmit electrical impulses that control all your movements and basic functions, including those that you are unaware of. To do this, the nerves must contain the right balance of electrolytes, which are minerals that carry a charge. Minerals are essential nutrients that you must get from your diet for healthy nerve function.
The sodium-potassium pump is an important mechanism that is needed for nerve function. It works by pumping three sodium ions -- charged molecules -- out of the nerve cell, allowing two potassium ions to enter the cell, giving the nerve a charge because it has more positive ions outside than inside. The sodium-potassium pump triggers an electrical impulse that bounces from one nerve cell to the next transmitting messages between your brain and spinal cord and the rest of your body.
Calcium is known as the bone-building mineral, but this nutrient also plays a key role in transmitting nerve impulses that contract the muscles in your body and heart. The Linus Pauling Institute explains that nerve cells contain calcium channels that allow this mineral to flow into the cell and activate proteins that trigger an impulse leading to muscle contraction. This major mineral should be a part of your daily diet; you need at least 1,200 milligrams a day. Good sources for calcium include milk and dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables and fortified foods.
In addition to being a part of the sodium-potassium pump for nerve impulses, potassium is also important for controlling the activity of heart muscles, which are controlled by their own nerve impulses. Colorado State University Extension advises that the recommended daily amount is 4,700 milligrams of potassium. You can get adequate amounts of this mineral in unprocessed lean meats, low-fat milk, leafy green vegetables and fruit, particularly citrus and vine fruits.
Although, consuming excessive sodium can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, this mineral is an essential nutrient and, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, most healthy adults need to get about 2,300 milligrams a day. Sodium works alongside potassium to transmit nerve impulses. Sodium is naturally found in most foods; too much sodium is usually a problem when it comes from salt that is added to foods.
Nadia Haris is a registered radiation therapist who has been writing about nutrition for more than six years. She is completing her Master of Science in nutrition with a focus on the dietary needs of oncology patients.