Dehydration Dangers

Recently, I traveled from my home in Santa Monica to my favorite desert spa in record 121° heat. At 10 pm, it was still 106°. During my three days there, I drank liquid continuously. I estimate 16-20, 8-ounce cups daily. During such severe heat, people become very sensitive to dehydration. But it’s important to stay adequately hydrated year-round.

Dehydration Causes

Dehydration can happen for many reasons besides heat exposure, including as a side effect of prescribed medications; diarrhea; excessive sweating; loss of blood; diseases, such as diabetes; as well as the effects of aging

Dehydration Symptoms

If you notice your mouth is dry and you’re tired, see what happens once you drink some purified water. If you immediately perk up, that’s feedback that you were dehydrated. Dehydration can range from mild to severe. Severe dehydration can be life-threatening. If you develop severe diarrhea with or without vomiting, fever, moderate diarrhea for 24 hours, bloody stool, or you can’t drink any liquids, get professional treatment as soon as possible. Chronic dehydration may affect your organs and lead to kidney stones; increased cholesterol; constipation; liver, joint, and muscle damage, as well as impaired balance.

Dehydration Symptoms

Mild to Moderate Dehydration Severe Dehydration
Dry, sticky mouth Extreme thirst
Sleepiness or tiredness Irritability and confusion
Dry skin Sunken eyes
Headache Dry skin that doesn’t bounce back when you pinch it
Constipation Low blood pressure
Dizziness or lightheadedness Rapid heartbeat
Few or no tears when crying Rapid breathing
Minimal urine No tears when crying
Dry, cool skin Fever
Muscle cramps Little or no urination, and any urine color that is darker than usual
In serious cases, delirium or unconsciousness

Electrolyte Imbalance

Electrolyte imbalance often accompanies dehydration due to loss of minerals. Minerals take on a positive or negative charge, becoming electrolytes when they dissolve in body fluid. Electrolytes conduct electricity and move electrical signals throughout your body. These charges are crucial to many functions that keep you alive, including the operation of the brain, nerves, and muscles, and the creation of new tissue. Each electrolyte plays a specific role in your body. You will notice that many of dehydration symptoms are related to depletion of specific electrolytes:

Important Electrolytes and Their Functions

Electrolytes Functions
Bicarbonate •       Regulates heart function

•       Helps maintain a healthy pH

Calcium •       Key component of bones and teeth

•       Essential to movement of nerve impulses and muscle movement

•       Contributes to blood clotting

Chloride •       Essential to digestion

•       Helps maintain healthy pH

Magnesium •       Helps maintain heart rhythm

•       Helps regulate blood glucose levels

•       Enhances immune system

•       Contributes to nerve and muscle function

•       Important for the production of DNA and RNA

Phosphate •       Strengthens bones and teeth

•       helps cells produce the energy needed for tissue growth and repair

Potassium •       Regulates your heart and blood pressure

•       Aids in transmitting nerve impulses

•       Necessary for muscle contraction

•       Contributes to bone health

Sodium

 

•       Helps control fluids in the body, impacting blood pressure

•       Necessary for muscle and nerve function  

Dehydration Risk Increases with Age

As we get older, we are more prone to dehydration no matter the weather. I started to notice this during moderate hikes and exercise when I hit my mid-fifties. There are a several physiological reasons for this:

The body loses water as we age. At birth the body is more than 70% water. Until about age 40, the proportion of total body fluids to body weight is about 60% in men and 52% in women. The difference between the genders is that men have greater muscle mass and lower body fat than women. Muscle cells contain more water than fat cells. After age 60, with the loss of muscle and increase in fat in both genders, the proportion goes down to 52% in men and 46% in women.

In addition, the kidneys’ ability to remove toxins from the blood progressively declines with age. They require more water to do their job. Therefore, in addition to less total body fluids, older people lose more water to normal kidney function than do younger folks. 

As we age, our thirst mechanism undergoes changes. Decades of research have identified the hypothalamus in the brain as the body’s primary thirst center. As neuroscientists from brainfacts.org http://www.brainfacts.org/brain-basics/neural-network-function/articles/2008/the-neural-regulation-of-thirst/ explain, the hypothalamus constantly monitors the blood’s concentration of sodium and other important substances, and it also receives inputs from the sensors in blood vessels that monitor volume and pressure. When the hypothalamus senses insufficient body fluid, it sends out a signal to drink. For reasons that the scientists say aren’t yet clear, age tends to dampen this message from the brain.

Best Hydration Options

Whether it is mild, moderate, or severe dehydration, the lost liquids in your body must be immediately replaced.

The best solution for preventing dehydration is to drink purified water. Most sources say eight 8-ounce glasses. Eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits also help hydrate the body and provides important nutrients, including minerals essential for electrolyte balance. Also remember that you need to drink adequate healthy fluids even if you don’t feel thirst. You need to learn to drink “on command” rather than “on demand.”

Many athletes drink Gatorade or other sports drinks, which contain electrolytes. The problem is that those drinks are also typically high in sugar. Coconut water is a far better fluid/electrolyte replacement option. I discovered coconut water at local farmer markets several years ago, where it was sold simply with a straw inserted into a whole coconut. Now it’s commercially produced. Look for products that contain only coconut water not from concentrate, with no added sugar or other ingredients. During my recent desert sojourn, I found coconut water far more hydrating and energizing than plain water. I now routinely keep a few cartons in my refrigerator and drink it whenever plain water doesn’t do the trick for me. I also just discovered bottled water enhanced with electrolytes. Look for both in your local health food store or large supermarket.