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A Heads Up About Hydration

Some health authorities believe that as many as 80% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Before you file this in the “big deal” category, read on to learn the serious health effects of dehydration and how it brought this doctor to the brink.

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Dehydration can kill you. It can happen fast or it can happen gradually, but it is nothing to take lightly. It almost got me last Wednesday as I was driving home from work. At 75 miles per hour I was overcome by the feeling of a grey cloud enveloping me. I knew I was passing out and that I was going to crash. I don’t know whether my concentrating on controlling the car, the fear-induced adrenaline rush or just the grace of God allowed the cloud to pass and for me to avoid an accident, but I gave thanks for the reprieve and drove straight to the emergency room. After 13 hours in the ER and a visit to the cardiologist it was determined that I was extremely dehydrated and a sort of hypovolemic condition allowed my blood pressure to drop, which brought on the near-syncope event.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the last few months have been stressful, physically taxing, and the time demands have often left me sleep-deprived. As a result, my caffeine intake had increased gradually – and to the point of being a daily overdose to get me through. Worse yet, I was drinking a lot less water – the strong tea and coffee were replacing the vital fluid that my body needs. And, of course, caffeine is a powerful diuretic so, in addition to not getting enough water each day, I was urinating so frequently that I was losing much more fluid than I was taking in. But, in the end, I did not crash. Because of that I consider myself lucky. I realize what happened and now I can correct the situation by drastically reducing my caffeine and getting plenty of water into my system each day. That was my story.

Here is what is happening in the bodies of millions of Americans every day:

Water makes up approximately 70% of the human body. Most of the water is found within the cells. The rest is found in the space between cells and in the blood vessels. No bodily function can occur without it; no organ can perform its task; it is essential for life. Most people understand this, but many seem to believe that coffee, tea and soft drinks provide adequate hydration to keep us healthy. They do just the opposite and the chronic state of dehydration that results can have devastating health effects, including:

  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke – Dehydration causes the blood to become thicker and lose volume. This causes the heart to work harder to deliver blood throughout the body and the blood itself carries less oxygen in this reduced state. Blood that is thicker clots more readily and is more likely to break off a plaque and carry it to a vital organ, like the heart or brain.
  • Kidney failure – Reduced blood flow caused by the hypovolemia of dehydration will inhibit the kidneys’ ability to adequately perform the task of filtering the blood. Over time this can lead to kidney failure, which is reversible if treated early.
  • Shock – Reduced blood flow due to dehydration reduces oxygen delivery to the organs. Over time the organs begin to malfunction which can lead to organ failure and even death.
  • Heat Stroke – Excessive sweating to control body temperature in a hot environment can lead to dehydration. If the sufferer is not moved from the heat and rehydrated, his/her body temperature will elevate and heat stroke may occur. This is a medical emergency and the patient should get immediate medical care.
  • Electrolyte imbalance – Potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium are trace minerals that are necessary for all organ and system functions in the human body. Dehydration can disturb the normal levels of these electrolytes and cause weakness, heart palpitations and seizures.

Chronic dehydration is no laughing matter, though most people live in this physical state. Many health experts believe – and numerous studies have shown – that dehydration is a risk factor for life-threatening illness and has a premature aging effect upon the human body. And as health issues go, there is nothing easier to treat and prevent. It is a simple as 1-2-3:

  1. Hydrate – My rule of thumb has always been to drink one-half of your body weight in ounces of water (not juice, coffee, tea, soda, etc.) each day. If you are ill, exercising vigorously or exposed to very hot environmental conditions you may need more. So if you weigh 120 pounds you should drink 60 ounces (about 8 cups) of water per day.
  2. Spike your water – A pinch of glacial salt will add potassium, magnesium and sodium to your water without changing the taste. This is a lot less expensive than those pricey bottled waters with electrolytes. REAL salt is a glacial salt product found in most supermarkets.
  3. Reduce your caffeine intake – Caffeine is a diuretic. It makes you urinate excessively and that fluid lost is vital and must be replaced. Find a happy medium where you can get enough caffeine to satisfy your needs and get enough water to keep your levels healthy.

I was lucky, odd as that may seem to say. I got a good scare and a big hospital bill, but I received a stark reminder of what I already knew – getting enough water is essential for healthy living. I had no excuse; now you don’t either…drink up!

Symptoms of Dehydration

  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle cramps
  • Sweating stops
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Decreased urine output, Water Can Prevent Heart Attack & Stroke, Jean Ann Fitzgerald, Retrieved April 28, 2014, Healthy Beginnings Magazine, 2014., The hydration influence on the risk of stroke (THIRST) study, Rodriguez, GJ et al, Neurocrit Care 2009;10(2):187-94, Retrieved April 28, 2014, PubMed, 2014., Dehydration, Benjamin Wedro, MD, Melissa Stoppler, MD, Retrieved April 28, 2014, MedicineNet, Inc., 2014.

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