Dehydration

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The most important substance a person needs to survive (after air) is water. Up to 60 percent of the human body is comprised of it. Indeed, you’d be lucky to survive more than three days without some good old H2O. In the coming dog days of summer, maintaining water status (“hydration”) will be imperative if you’re going to stay healthy.

Water is required for many bodily functions, here are just a few:

  • maintaining circulation
  • aiding digestion
  • supplying nutrients
  • removing waste
  • cushioning joints
  • regulating body temperature

HOW MUCH FLUID IS ENOUGH?

Requirements for water depend on the climate you’re in, the amount of exertion performed, and general state of health. Medical problems, like running a fever, diarrhea, or vomiting, increase the amounts of fluids needed to replace lost water content. If you don’t get enough in your system, you become dehydrated.

The general rule is that women should drink 2.7 liters of water each day and men should drink 3.7 liters. Another measure suggests dividing your weight (in pounds) by half and drink that numbers of fluid ounces. It may seem like a lot, but that’s what you need to replace daily water loss.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends you drink 8 ounces of water either at bedtime or when you wake up. Drink at least a glassful with every meal. If you know there’s work to be done outside in the heat, drink 16 ounces well before you start.

You should know that the water content of solid foods is included in measuring your daily intake. Most people ingest about 20 percent of their daily fluids in the form of solid food. Some of your best options include watermelon, strawberries, grapefruit, spinach, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower. These contain at least 90 percent water.

I get asked a lot about dehydrated fruit and vegetable supplements: Whether they provide nutrients or not, they decrease your daily fluid intake from whole fruits and vegetables and possibly contribute to dehydration.

DEHYDRATION

Failure to keep up with your fluid status leads to dehydration. How do you know how dehydrated you are? A good measure is the color of your urine. Pale urine (lemonade- or straw-colored) indicates a decent hydration level. Darker yellow urine means you’re behind. Amber-colored urine suggests you’re very behind.

Note: Some drugs and medical issues may affect urine color, regardless of hydration status.

Frequency of urination and amount of total output should also be monitored. If you’re well-hydrated, you should feel an urge to use the restroom about every two to three hours.

Other signs and symptoms of dehydration include feeling lightheaded, thirsty, having a dry mouth, and fatigue. Headaches and rapid heartbeats are also seen. Skin elasticity (known as “turgor”) decreases. Turgor status is determined by pulling up the skin of your forearm. In a well-hydrated person, it snaps right back when released. In severe dehydration, it may stay tented up or return to normal  more slowly.

STAYING HYDRATED

Many of us walk around all the time at some level of dehydration. In the upcoming hot weather, how can you stay hydrated if you’re working or exercising in the sun?

The American Council on Exercise suggests drinking 20 ounces 2-3 hours before any serious exertion, then another 8 ounces 20 minutes or so before starting. During your workout, drink 8 ounces or so every 10-20 minutes. Finally, add another 8 ounces no more than 30 minutes after you’re done.

WHICH FLUIDS?

It ain’t beer…. credit: Pixabay

Some people think any kind of fluid is fine when it comes to rehydration. After all, there’s a lot of water in beer, isn’t there?

It turns out that some liquids actually can dehydrate you. Excessive amounts of coffee, regular soda, beer, wine, and hard liquor can dehydrate you. Drinks loaded with sugar like lemonade, sweet tea, energy drinks, and smoothies may also remove water from the body.

You can counteract some of these effects by drinking a rehydrating glass of water between each dehydrating beverage.

Water’s too boring? Jazz up your water by adding limes, lemons, oranges, berries, or cucumbers to improve the taste. Coconut water is another option; it’s rich in sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

How about fruit juice? A lot of juices add sugar to increase the sweetness. Avoid these. Make sure you look at the label for indications of added sugars.

Construction workers and athletes that spend the day out in the sun need more help with hydration than just water. Commercial items that help include products like Pedialyte, Gatorade, and other electrolyte-rich drinks. If you drink these, avoid ingesting juices or salty foods which might unbalance your blood chemistry.

HEAT-RELATED EMERGENCIES

In hot-weather settings where people are at-risk, already mildly dehydrated, or beginning to feel ill, the solution is simple: Get out of the heat and drink liquids. Keeping your body temperature as close to normal as possible can be life-saving. A high body temperature can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Even better is having a plan to prevent heat issues.

Consider:

  • Wearing light-textured, loose-fitting clothing in light colors.
  • Wearing hats for shade purposes
  • Scheduling strenuous activities during cooler times of the day
  • Misting with a spray bottle
  • Increasing intake of cold liquids if you’re sweating

It might be a cruel, cruel summer this year. Knowing how to prevent dehydration and heat-related problems like heat stroke or heat exhaustion could save a life. For more in-depth information on how to identify and treat these cases, check out my article on the subject.

Joe Alton MD

Dr. Alton

Hey, learn more about dehydration and 200 other medical topics in survival settings with the two-time Book Excellence Award winner in medicine, The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide For When Help Is NOT On The Way, available in black and white at Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at store.doomandbloom.net! Plus, check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies while you’re there! You’ll be glad you did!

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at store.doomandbloom.net. Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at store.doomandbloom.net.

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