Dehydration – An Imbalance of Water & Minerals
100% Preventable – If you know what to do!
Dehydration results from the loss of water and important electrolytes from the body, including potassium, sodium, chloride and many other minerals often overlooked. The very functioning of essential organs like the brain, kidney, heart and nervous system can’t function without sufficient water or minerals. In third world countries millions of people die each year from dehydration, particularly susceptible are children and the elderly. But even in North American people suffer unnecessarily and even when people aren’t actually ill from dehydration, it can really affect quality of life and performance.
Noteworthy is that water makes up 70 percent of our muscles and about 75 percent of our brains. Thus it is not surprising that as minerals and water become deplete that muscle aches and cramps, fatigue and thinking can be affected. Research shows that dehydration can diminish thought processes and memory, thus adversely affecting global quality of life. This should not be surprising considering that an imbalance in just one mineral can actually lead to substantial biochemical imbalances, thus maintaining and replacing the full array of minerals and trace minerals in ones diet daily is important, let along during times of strain on your body’s systems such as times that can cause dehydration.
There are many causes of dehydration, indeed everyday we lose about 2 cups of water from just breathing, so if it is not replaced a fluid and electrolyte imbalance will occur. Dehydration causes fall within 4 basic categories represent common causes:
Common Causes of Potential Dehydration*
- Sweating- Fever, Exercise, Excess exposure to heat (heat exhaustion/heat stroke)
- Vomiting- Ulcers, Food Poisoning, Flu, etc.
- Diarrhea- Gastroenteritis, Flu, Food Poisoning, Bowel Disease
- Insufficient Intake- This can arise from not consuming adequate quantities of water and minerals or a relative deficiency due to excess loss.
*It is essential that the cause of the dehydration is addressed.
I routinely coach my patients to focus on prevention when it comes to dehydration. The reality is that dehydration happens more frequently than most of us realize. How many of you have suffered from dry lips and mouth, skin that is flaky, a swimmy sensation in your head when you have forgotten to drink sufficient water? Well one or more of these symptoms are very prevalent for tens of thousands of people in the North America alone.
In fact, on a hot humid day, an active person can become dehydrated in just 15 minutes.
So, how do you avoid getting dehydrations, well here are two specific clues:
- Get enough water
- Consume your minerals sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium
- Minerals-The Spice of Life and an Essential Consideration for Dehydration Treatment
- Sodium: Salt plain and simple. That is why after sweating you crave salty food.
- Potassium: Most American’s don’t get enough. The average intake is only half as much as sodium. A healthful intake is 5 times more potassium, than sodium, which is easily gotten by eating a more vegetable, and fruit based diet.
- Chloride: The mate to both sodium (NaCl) and potassium (KCl), it is essential to keep these items in proper balance.
- Calcium: This mineral is essential for proper cardiac and muscle function, if too low one can get muscle cramps.
- Magnesium: When low muscle spasms can occur, also this mineral is crucial for maintaining a healthy airflow and to help keep blood pressure balanced.
- Trace Minerals: The forgotten minerals, yet just because they are trace and small they are lost also when one get dehydrated. Replacing them as well can help maintain overall health and optimal functioning and performance.
If you are athletically inclined, avoiding dehydration takes on an additional significance.
Not only are you at a higher risk, dehydration can really decrease your performance and endurance, thus dulling your performance edge. There are 2 basic levels of dehydration that might be treated at home. It is important to remember dehydration can be serious. Here are some signs of dehydration and the level of related severity.
Frequent Signs of Dehydration*
Mild- (Safe to treat at home as long as it doesn’t worsen)
- Dry lips
- Inside of mouth slightly dry
Moderate- (Children under 12 should see a physician immediately)
- Very dry mouth
- Eyes sunken
- Fontanelles sunken (Soft spots on infants head)
- Tenting (pinching and lift skin lightly- it doesn’t bounce back readily)
Severe- (This requires hospitalization to rapidly reverse the dehydration via IV therapy)
- All other signs of moderate dehydration
- Rapid and weak pulse (often over 100 beats per minute)
- Cold hands and feet
- Breathing is rapid
- Lips may be blue
- Person may be lethargic, confused or apathetic
*When in doubt get medical attention, it is always important to be cautious
Though the symptoms described about seem ominous, the important thing to remember is that these symptoms occur when dehydration is allowed to occur and are not treated in a rapid fashion. Remembering that the very young and older adults are more susceptible to suffering from dehydration and a more rapid and serious progression of symptoms requiring even more close attention. Here are a few points of review that are helpful tips to remember.
Practical Tips to Avoid Dehydration
- Drink plenty of fluids~Consume 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water daily
- Sports drinks can provide carbohydrates, fluid and minerals
- Limit or avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol~They both increase dehydration
- Outside clothing on warm days should be light, absorbable and loose fitting
- Avoid carbonated beverages that can bloat and give sense of fullness limiting fluid intake
- Use sun block, stay cool and seek the protection of shade whenever possible
Consuming your water and replacing your minerals is the essential first step when treating dehydration. Yet the best bet is to get your daily dose of minerals and water daily, so you will be better prepared for potential dehydration risks. Researchers have shown that pre-loading, treating during and after are the best way to maintain proper hydration.
Clap AJ et al., A review of fluid replacement for workers in hot jobs. AIHAJ 63(2):190-8, 2002.
Burker LM., Nutritional needs for exercise in the heat. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol 128(4):735-48, 2001.
No Listed Authors, Position of dietitians of Canada, the American Dietetic Association, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Can J Diet Pract Res 61(4):176-192, 2000.
Written by: Dr. Chris Meletis N. D.