Pass me the water please I am dehydrated!

Male cyclist drinking from water bottle, outdoors

With another hot week ahead, I thought it might be good to discuss how the heat can be a silent killer for some.  As a society we often lament of the loss of life related to one off events like natural disasters and accidents without really understanding some of the silent killers- like dehydration.  In the sustained heat wave of 2016 374 lives were lost and hospital admissions escalated, all due to the effects of heat stroke.

Dehydration has a significant deleterious effect on your health. Even as much as 3% loss in cell body fluid can lead to significant reduction in cell function. Cells  that makes up the tissue are effected and then organ efficiency declines resulting in swift and dramatic reductions in performance.

How do you prevent this? Some of the early signs of dehydration include:

  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Lethargy
  • Moody
  • Start to make mistakes
  • Eyes appear sunken
  • Skin does not retract quickly after being pinched

The sporting arena gives us some great insight into the ramifications and requirements of hydrating appropriately or otherwise . They are constantly sipping away using all sources to keep their bodies well hydrated because they know a drop off in performance leads to failure. It is not too far a stretch that with a failure to observe the signs of dehydration, that our performance will too, decline. Moreover, this may be even days after the hot spell, where we have failed to rehydrate adequately.

This is even further compounded as the years progress with many elderly folk have difficulty with body temperature regulation. Signal receptors within the ageing body fail to fire as accurately as they once did, not unlike the way balance declines in the elderly and if this progresses cells lose their integrity. This may flow onto the circulatory system and the kidneys, normally sensitive to subtle changes in blood chemistry and pressure enter a phase of dysfunction, that may put the weaker individual in hospital for recovery.

What to do? Find below a list of strategies to combat the effects of dehydration:

  • Keep an eye on the colour of your urine. Ideally, it should be clear. On a hot day, or after exercise it will usually start to have a yellow tinge.  If this starts to become darker and volume starts to decrease. Then you are already dehydrated.
  • Furthermore, if you do not need to go to the toilet then alarm bells should be starting to ring.
  • Have a water bottle handy. At your desk, in your car, in your carry bag.
  • Remind your colleagues to have a drink. Or even better, pop a nice cool glass of water at their work station
  • Water is the best, avoid sugary sports drinks.
  • Add a dash of lemon to make it easier to digest.

“Researchers concluded that sweat-loss rate is extremely individual, and no helpful generalizations are possible.”

The science of staying hydrated is an inexact science, too much water and it sloshes about in your stomach and you spend too much time trotting off to the toilet. Drinking early is the key. If you know it is going to be hot and you know a fair part of the day is going to be outside, then you do need a plan. Start early, have a glass of water before you leave home. Have a bottle handy in the car, know where the taps are and if there are any water coolers available.

How much water is enough? The research is still out and the usual indicators are not that reliable, it appears that most common rules of thumb for judging hydration are wrong. Thirst is not reliable, but neither are estimates based on the person’s weight or fitness, or  the old ‘8 glasses a day’. Although this last one, (8 glasses ~ 2 litres) is a reasonable starting point, I dare say it is more than most of us consume. Overdoing rehydration is rarely a problem, apart from all of the trips to the toilet

Rehydration is a slow process and overdoing it is rarely a problem.

Lastly, we often find in practice that the winter months can be just as bad for some people when it comes to dehydration. Multiple donors/blankets, multiple layers of clothing, heaters pumping and a general lack of desire to drink water provide a perfect cocktail for dehydration. Just remember that drinking water is a 24/7/365 requirement and try to create some habits that are easy to continue year ’round.

Any questions, just give me a call on 84181445

Dr Pete


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