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The intricate balance of ions within the body plays a crucial role in maintaining optimal physiological function. Among these ions, chloride is an often overlooked yet essential electrolyte.   

Chloride, a negatively charged ion, is one of the primary electrolytes found in the extracellular fluid of the body. It exists in the form of chloride ions (Cl-) and plays a crucial role in various physiological processes.

Chloride is involved in maintaining fluid balance, regulating osmotic pressure, transmitting nerve impulses, and facilitating the movement of other ions across cell membranes. It also plays a role in acid-base balance, primarily in conjunction with sodium and bicarbonate ions.

This article includes the definition and function of chloride, dietary sources, recommended intake, laboratory testing, interpretation of test results, and natural ways to support and optimize chloride levels. 

Exploring these facets will provide valuable insights into harnessing the power of chloride for optimal health outcomes.

Definition and Function of Chloride

Definition of Chloride: What is Chloride?  [3., 5., 12.]

Chloride, the second most abundant serum electrolyte after sodium, is a vital electrolyte in regulating body fluids, electrolyte balance, maintaining electrical neutrality, and managing acid-base status. 

Chloride is closely associated with sodium intake, and its daily requirements are typically aligned with those of sodium. This alignment stems from the fact that chloride is primarily derived from sodium chloride intake. 

In terms of chemistry, chloride exists as a mono-atomic free hydrated anion, playing crucial roles alongside cations like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium in various physiological processes. While chloride forms covalent organic compounds with pharmacological and toxicological roles, its primary relevance lies in its electrolyte function.

In biological systems, chloride is one of the dominant anions in extracellular fluid and the predominant anion in intracellular fluid. Its transport across biological membranes is facilitated by chloride channels, which modulate membrane polarity, osmotic balance, and acid-base equilibrium. 

In epithelial sodium transport in various body systems, Cl− levels influence the activity of sodium channels, affecting ion transport across epithelial membranes.

These channels also enable the generation of electrical signals in muscle and nervous tissue and play a role in the secretion and resorption of fluids, particularly in organs like the lungs and exocrine glands. 

Additionally, Cl− interacts with H+ in various physiological processes, impacting pH regulation and cellular functions. Lowered pH affects cellular metabolism and can contribute to insulin resistance and cancer progression.

Moreover, chloride is involved in processes such as the secretion of gastric acid, oxygen exchange in erythrocytes, and the immune response through the production of hypochlorous acid by neutrophils. 

Abnormal chloride levels often signal underlying metabolic disorders like metabolic acidosis or alkalosis, making it a crucial component in diagnostic assessments across various clinical contexts. Its assessment in sweat, serum, urine, and feces aids in diagnosing a spectrum of conditions, highlighting its diagnostic significance. 

Chloride, the predominant anion in extracellular fluid, plays vital roles in various physiological processes throughout the body. Primarily found in gastrointestinal secretions, particularly in gastric fluids, chloride participates in the regulation of intestinal fluid secretion. 

Its absorption and secretion in the intestines are finely regulated by a range of factors, including hormonal and neuronal signals. Proximally in the gut, chloride is actively absorbed through exchange mechanisms or passively following gradients, while in the distal small intestine and proximal colon, it is absorbed alongside sodium. 

Once absorbed, chloride circulates freely in the bloodstream with serum concentrations typically ranging from 97 to 107 mmol/L in healthy adults. It constitutes a significant portion of total body electrolytes, with most chloride found in the extracellular fluid. 

The kidney predominantly regulates chloride levels, filtering large amounts, of which over 99% are reabsorbed, primarily in the proximal tubule. Chloride excretion in urine closely mirrors sodium excretion, reflecting their intertwined regulatory mechanisms. 

Furthermore, chloride can be eliminated through feces and sweat, although losses are relatively small compared to renal excretion. 

Chloride's interactions with other nutrients, particularly sodium and potassium, are critical for various physiological functions, including the regulation of membrane potential and the generation of electrical signals in muscle and nervous tissue. 

Additionally, evidence suggests that chloride may contribute to the blood pressure-regulating effects of sodium chloride, although further research is needed to elucidate its exact mechanisms.

Imbalances in chloride levels, such as hyperchloremia from gastrointestinal bicarbonate loss or hypochloremia from conditions like vomiting or fluid overload, can impact bodily functions significantly. 

While dietary chloride deficiency is rare and excess intake uncommon, deviations from normal serum chloride concentrations can lead to health consequences such as metabolic alkalosis or acidosis, highlighting the importance of maintaining chloride balance in the body.

Functions of Chloride/What Does Chloride Do in the Body?  [5.]

Chloride ions (Cl−) play multifaceted roles in cellular functions, impacting processes ranging from cytoskeletal dynamics to taste sensation and epithelial transport regulation.

Intracellular Effects  [7.]

One of the significant functions of Cl− is its impact on tubulin polymerization, a crucial process in cytoskeletal dynamics. Cl− inhibits the GTPase activity of tubulin, leading to enhanced tubulin polymerization, which is essential for various cellular processes including neuronal connectivity formation and cell division. 

The chloride-regulatory mechanisms of certain kinases are crucial for maintaining cellular homeostasis.

Cl- also regulates ciliary motility: in ciliary movement, Cl− suppresses both amplitude and frequency.

Furthermore, Cl− influences cell proliferation, migration, and apoptosis through various signaling pathways, highlighting its diverse physiological roles.

Nervous System  [7.] 

Chloride ions influence neuronal activity and neurotransmitter release, impacting nerve function and signaling.

In GABAergic neurons, Cl− influx induced by GABA binding to its receptor leads to membrane hyperpolarization, crucial for neuronal maturation. Conversely, in immature neurons, GABA-induced Cl− efflux results in membrane depolarization. 

This shift from efflux to influx with neuronal maturation is pivotal for proper development and functioning of neural networks.

Immune System  [11.]

Chloride ions (Cl-) are essential for the production of hypochlorous acid (HOCl) by white blood cells, particularly neutrophils, as part of the innate immune response.

Neutrophils produce hypochlorous acid (HOCl) from chloride ions (Cl−) and hydrogen peroxide to combat ingested microbes, facilitated by the enzyme myeloperoxidase. This process, essential for neutralizing pathogens, is typically attributed only to myeloid cells, but non-myeloid cells also exhibit enhanced antiviral activity with increased sodium chloride (NaCl) concentrations, inhibiting a wide range of viruses. 

This suggests that non-myeloid cells possess an innate antiviral mechanism dependent on Cl− availability for HOCl production, highlighting the broader role of Cl− in immune defense beyond myeloid cells.

Respiratory System  [5.]

Chloride ions (Cl-) play a vital role in maintaining lung function by regulating the composition and volume of airway surface liquid, which is essential for mucociliary clearance and proper lung defense against pathogens and irritants. Dysfunction in chloride ion transport can lead to respiratory disorders such as cystic fibrosis.

Digestive System

Chloride is secreted by digestive epithelia, and increased Cl- secretion can cause secretory diarrhea, while decreased Cl- secretion is a hallmark of cystic fibrosis.  [2.]

Chloride is essential for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, aiding in digestion.  [5.] 

Muscular System

Chloride ions play a role in muscle contraction and relaxation, contributing to muscle function.

Research spanning several decades has elucidated the crucial role of chloride conductance, particularly through the ClC-1 chloride channel, in skeletal muscle function. Dysfunctions in ClC-1 activity underlie various neuromuscular diseases, emphasizing its importance in maintaining muscle excitability and adaptation. Understanding ClC-1 physiology and associated diseases may pave the way for developing targeted therapies to restore normal muscle function.  [1.] 

Renal System  [5.] 

Chloride is crucial for maintaining electrolyte balance and regulating fluid levels in the body through its role in kidney function.

Acid-Base Balance  [10.]

Chloride ions interact with bicarbonate ions to regulate the body's pH levels, ensuring proper acid-base balance.

Cancer Drug Resistance  [7.]

Cl− channels play a role in drug resistance mechanisms in cancer cells. Upregulated Cl− channels can lead to multidrug resistance by promoting the efflux of anticancer drugs. 

Specifically, ClC-3 Cl− channels have been implicated in multidrug resistance, affecting the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy.

Taste Sensation  [7.] 

Cl− also regulates taste sensation.  In taste receptors, Cl− binding induces conformational changes, enhancing sweet and umami taste sensitivity. 

Dietary Sources of Chloride  [6.]

Table salt, sodium chloride, is a common source of chloride in the diet.  Potassium chloride is a salt alternative used by people with hypertension, and it is another source of chloride.  

Other foods that contain chloride as well as other electrolytes include tomatoes, lettuce, olives, celery, rye, whole-grain foods, and seafood. Although many salt substitutes are sodium-free, they may still contain chloride.

Recommended Intake of Chloride

Adequate Intake (AI) of Chloride

The currently recommended adequate intake of chloride is 2300 mg/day for adult males and females, including pregnant and lactating women.  

Testing Options for Chloride

General Lab Testing Information and Sample Type

Chloride levels are typically assessed via a blood test in serum.  A venipuncture is typically required.  Chloride is a standard component of the basic and comprehensive metabolic panels, which provide an overview of some critical electrolytes and minerals in the blood.  

Preparation for Lab

Fasting is often required, but it is important to check with your ordering provider.

Interpreting Test Results

Reference Range for Chloride

It is important to consult with the laboratory company used for their reference ranges.  However, a typical reference range for serum chloride is:  [8.]

Adult/elderly: 98-106 mEq/L or 98-106 mmol/L (SI units)

Child: 90-110 mEq/L

Newborn: 96-106 mEq/L

Premature infant: 95-110 mEq/L

Possible critical values: < 80 or > 115 mEq/L

Clinical Significance of High Levels of Chloride

High chloride levels in the blood, or hyperchloremia, can be caused by a variety of reasons, including a net water loss; metabolic acidosis or respiratory alkalosis, or hyperchloremia with associated metabolic acidosis.  [9.]

Hyperchloremia is associated with:  [4.]

  • Renal failure
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Renal tubular acidosis
  • Dehydration
  • Overtreatment with saline
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Diabetes insipidus
  • Metabolic acidosis from diarrhea (loss of HCO3–)
  • Respiratory alkalosis
  • Hyperadrenocorticism
  • Use of certain drugs like acetazolamide (hyperchloremic acidosis), androgens, hydrochlorothiazide, salicylates (intoxication)

Clinical Significance of Low Levels of Chloride

Hypochloremia, or low blood levels of chloride, can arise from both extrarenal and renal factors. 

Extrarenal causes include insufficient sodium chloride intake, vomiting, diarrhea, gastrointestinal suction, and fluid loss through the skin, often due to burns. 

Renal factors contributing to hypochloremia include diuretic abuse, osmotic diuresis (e.g., from conditions like diabetic ketoacidosis), salt-losing nephropathy, chronic renal failure, postobstructive diuresis, and adrenal insufficiency. 

Clinically, individuals with hypochloremia often exhibit signs of extracellular fluid volume contraction such as hypotension, tachycardia, and orthostatic changes in blood pressure, coupled with low concentrations of sodium and chloride in urine. 

Total chloride depletion frequently leads to metabolic alkalosis, as augmented reabsorption of sodium bicarbonate occurs in the proximal and distal tubule until chloride replacement or normalization of extracellular fluid volume is achieved. 

Treatment typically involves correcting chloride depletion with chloride-containing solutions like isotonic sodium chloride or potassium chloride. 

Dilutional hyponatremia, caused by excess water retention, may also result in hypochloremia, often necessitating chloride-containing fluids for correction. Additionally, specific acid-base abnormalities, such as respiratory acidosis, may further exacerbate hypochloremia by altering hydrogen ion secretion in the proximal tubule, leading to sodium retention and decreased serum chloride concentrations.

Hypochloremia is associated with:  [4.]

  • Gastrointestinal Causes: vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal suction.
  • Renal Causes: renal failure combined with salt deprivation, salt-losing nephropathy, and syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone excretion (SIADH).
  • Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalance: overtreatment with diuretics, chronic respiratory acidosis, diabetic ketoacidosis, excessive sweating, water intoxication, and expansion of extracellular fluid volume.
  • Endocrine Disorders: adrenal insufficiency and hyperaldosteronism.
  • Metabolic Conditions: metabolic alkalosis.
  • Medication-Induced: chronic laxative or bicarbonate ingestion, corticosteroids, and diuretics.

Natural Ways to Optimize Chloride Levels

  • Ensure adequate intake of dietary sources rich in chloride, such as table salt (sodium chloride), seaweed, olives, and tomatoes.
  • Maintain hydration levels by consuming sufficient fluids throughout the day, including water.
  • Avoid prolonged use of diuretics unless prescribed by a healthcare professional, as they can lead to excessive chloride excretion.
  • Monitor and manage conditions associated with renal dysfunction, as they can impact chloride balance.
  • Consider chloride-containing solutions for fluid replacement in cases of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, under the guidance of a medical provider.
  • Seek medical attention if experiencing symptoms of hypochloremia or hyperchloremia, such as weakness, fatigue, confusion, or irregular heartbeat, for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Order Chloride Testing 

Click here to compare testing options and order tests to assess chloride levels.  

Chloride is a kind of electrolyte, which is a substance that helps control the balance of fluids in your body and maintain the right balance of acidity and alkalinity. It works closely with other electrolytes like sodium and potassium to make sure your body functions properly. Chloride is mainly found in the fluid outside your cells and in your stomach as hydrochloric acid, which helps with digestion. It's usually obtained through the food you eat, with table salt being a common source. Your kidneys play an important role in regulating chloride levels, adjusting the amount that gets removed in urine based on your body's needs.
If Your Levels Are High
High chloride levels might mean that your body is having trouble managing its fluid and electrolyte balance. This could be caused by various factors, such as not drinking enough water, eating too much salty food, or taking certain medications that affect how your kidneys work. Sometimes, high chloride levels can also point to specific health issues like chronic lung disease or metabolic acidosis, which is when your body either makes too much acid or your kidneys don't remove enough of it. Keep in mind that high chloride levels alone don't confirm a particular health problem, but they can give you an idea of what might be going on inside your body.
Symptoms of High Levels
Symptoms of high levels of Chloride could include weakness, fatigue, excessive thirst, dry mouth, and frequent urination. In more severe cases, symptoms might also involve high blood pressure, swelling or puffiness, particularly around the eyes, and changes in breathing patterns.
If Your Levels are Low
Low chloride levels might mean that your body is having trouble maintaining the right balance of fluids and electrolytes. This could be due to a variety of reasons, such as losing too much fluid from vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating a lot. It might also be related to kidney problems, drinking too much water, or taking certain medications like diuretics that make you pee more. Conditions like congestive heart failure or adrenal gland disorders could also be a factor. Additionally, your diet could play a role, as low chloride levels might be a sign that you're not getting enough sodium from your food.
Symptoms of Low Levels
Symptoms of low levels of Chloride may include weakness, dehydration, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and changes in heart rate.
See References

[1.] Altamura C, Desaphy JF, Conte D, De Luca A, Imbrici P. Skeletal muscle ClC-1 chloride channels in health and diseases. Pflugers Arch. 2020 Jul;472(7):961-975. doi: 10.1007/s00424-020-02376-3. Epub 2020 May 2. PMID: 32361781. 

[2.] Barrett KE, Keely SJ. Chloride Secretion by the Intestinal Epithelium: Molecular Basis and Regulatory Aspects. Annual Review of Physiology. 2000;62(1):535-572. doi:

[3.] Bohn AA, de Morais HA. A Quick Reference on Chloride. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2017 Mar;47(2):219-222. doi: 10.1016/j.cvsm.2016.10.008. Epub 2016 Dec 20. PMID: 28007306. 

[4.] Chloride: Reference Range, Interpretation, Collection and Panels. eMedicine. Published online September 28, 2020. 

[5.] EFSA Panel on Nutrition, Novel Foods and Food Allergens (NDA); Turck D, Castenmiller J, de Henauw S, Hirsch-Ernst KI, Kearney J, Knutsen HK, Maciuk A, Mangelsdorf I, McArdle HJ, Pelaez C, Pentieva K, Siani A, Thies F, Tsabouri S, Vinceti M, Aggett P, Fairweather-Tait S, Martin A, Przyrembel H, de Sesmaisons-Lecarré A, Naska A. Dietary reference values for chloride. EFSA J. 2019 Sep 4;17(9):e05779. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5779. PMID: 32626426; PMCID: PMC7009052. 

[6.] Hamm K. Chloride. pressbooksbccampusca. Published online May 12, 2020. Accessed April 4, 2024. 

[7.] Marunaka, Y. Physiological roles of chloride ions in bodily and cellular functions. J Physiol Sci 73, 31 (2023).

[8.] Pagana KD, Pagana TJ, Pagana TN. Mosby’s Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference. 14th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2019. 233

[9.] Nagami GT. Hyperchloremia – Why and how. Nefrología. 2016;36(4):347-353. doi: 

[10.] Powers, Fran MA, MEd, CRNI. The Role of Chloride in Acid-Base Balance. Journal of Intravenous Nursing 22(5):p 286, September 1999. 

[11.] Ramalingam S, Cai B, Wong J, et al. Antiviral innate immune response in non-myeloid cells is augmented by chloride ions via an increase in intracellular hypochlorous acid levels. Scientific Reports. 2018;8(1). doi: 

[12.] Shrimanker I, Bhattarai S. Electrolytes. [Updated 2023 Jul 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: 

[13.] Strohm D, Bechthold A, Ellinger S, Leschik-Bonnet E, Stehle P, Heseker H; German Nutrition Society (DGE). Revised Reference Values for the Intake of Sodium and Chloride. Ann Nutr Metab. 2018;72(1):12-17. doi: 10.1159/000484355. Epub 2017 Dec 12. PMID: 29232668; PMCID: PMC6008876. 

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