Sarah's Health Notes: In Praise Of Water!
I’ve just returned from visiting a close relation, aged 75, who’s been in hospital on a drip because she was gravely dehydrated. She’s not very well anyway and not drinking enough water in this hot weather had pushed her over into a danger zone. According to a Review in the International Journal of Nursing Practice, ‘Dehydration is the most common fluid and electrolyte imbalance in older adults.’
Electrolytes are minerals in your blood, tissues, urine and other body fluids, which perform a number of important functions: balancing your body’s acid/alkali level; moving nutrients into your cells and moving waste out; ensuring that your nerves, muscles, heart and brain work as they should. (The ‘electro’ bit refers to the fact they have an electric charge.)
Sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate and magnesium are all electrolytes. They come from what you eat and drink. If the amount of water in your body changes, it affects the levels of electrolytes so dehydration can affect the way they keep your body functioning optimally.
It’s not just elderly people who get dehydrated
Even so-called ‘mild’ levels of dehydration can affect us all. An article in Nutrition Review says that ‘when dehydration reduces body mass by more than 2%, it has been consistently reported that mood is influenced, fatigue is greater and alertness is lower’.
And if those aren’t problems enough, lets add in vanity! Dehydration is a guaranteed way to encourage dull skin, prone to blemishes whereas drinking lots of water is equally guaranteed in our experience to help keep skin fresh, clear and healthy-looking.
So I’m taking this opportunity to remind everyone of the vital importance of keeping hydrated. Below, Kim Plaza, BSc, MSc, who’s the Nutritional Advisor to Bio-Kult, explains why this topic is so essential to understand and act on.
‘Water is essential for life. It is involved in virtually all functions of the human body. We cannot live without drinking water for more than a few days. It is required for a variety of actions in the body, such as regulating body temperature and blood pressure, transporting oxygen and nutrients, lubricating joints and removing waste from the body.’
‘If we don’t maintain an adequate level of hydration, we may suffer from dehydration; in its mild form, this may occur when we lose about 1% of our body weight due to water restriction. This means that a 70kg (11 stone) person would only need to lose the equivalent of 700ml (about 1:1/4 pts) of water before becoming dehydrated.’
‘Symptoms of dehydration include feeling thirsty, tired and/or light-headed, urine that is dark yellow and smells strongly, and urinating less than four times daily. Other symptoms are headaches and constipation, also dull skin that is more prone to congestion and breakouts.’
‘Our brains are made up of over 70% water so it’s not surprising that losing more than 2% of our body mass from water restriction, appears to result in significant cognitive impairments, including motor coordination, alertness and concentration, according to a review of 33 studies. We may need to put in more effort to perform attention-oriented tasks, which can reduce energy even more.’ [At a past Olympic Games, athletes were warned that if they were 2% dehydrated, their overall performance would go down 20%, according to a team doctor.]
So how do you tell if you’re not drinking enough?
According to Kim, ‘although monitoring your thirst level is a good starting point, by the time you feel thirsty you are likely to be already dehydrated. So you can’t rely on that alone.’
‘Monitoring urine colour and stool consistency is useful. Urine should be pale straw-coloured, odourless and plentiful. As dehydration can lead to constipation, harder or cracked stools or ones that are difficult to pass suggest more water is needed. See the Bristol Stool Chart for more [graphic!] information.’
How to increase the amount you drink
According to Kim, the daily requirement of fluid is 2 litres for women and 2.5 for men. ‘Research suggests that a variety of options encourages us to drink more,’ Kim adds. So….
- Sipping still water is the simplest way of getting hydrated but can be a bit boring so try flavouring it with lemon, lime, cucumber, ginger, mint etc. Try sparkling water too.
- Make drinking water a daily habit: start the day with a glass of water or a cup of hot water with a squeeze of lemon or lime. Keep a large jug on your table and/or desk and try to glug two jugs a day.
- If you are finding it hard to concentrate or feel a bit headache-y, reach for your water glass rather than a cup of tea or coffee.
- Caffeinated tea and coffee do contribute to our daily requirement of liquid but they can act as a mild diuretic in some people, leading to increased water loss, warns Kim. Also the caffeine may cause issues for some people. Swop for herbal teas/infusions. [My favourite is Pukka Herbs Organic Three Ginger Tea.)
- If you like fruit juice, remember it can be high in sugar. Choose pure fruit juice (check the ingredients list for additives) and dilute 1:1 with water. Best to limit this to one glass a day; same for fruit smoothies.
- Try kombucha and water kefir, which contain live bacteria and may help gut health. ‘Although sugar is often used to make these drinks, it’s used up by the bacteria so can be considered a low sugar option by the time we drink it,’ says Kim.
- Remember that milk shakes and fizzy drinks contain calories (unlike plain water or herbal tea) and often additives, which may not help your health.
Can supplements help?
Electrolyte sachets/powders can support hydration. One option is A. Vogel Balance Mineral Drink.
Supplements may also be useful when dehydration is the result of illnesses such as acute diarrhea. Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formula contains 14 types of live bacteria and doesn't need to be kept in the fridge so you can easily take it with you if you’re not at home.
Dehydration can also be linked to urinary tract infections especially in people who are unable to move around much. Bio-Kult Pro-Cyan has helped several elderly people I know.