This one hits close to home. I’ve been on the couch today with a mild headache (migraine) and just feeling generally like doing nothing.

About halfway through the day, I started to wonder how much of my malaise was due to dehydration. I’d only had one Spindrift and a cup of coffee. But how much is enough, what’s too much, and what is the best thing to drink?

Thomas, et al., (2008) defines dehydration as “the loss of water from the body…at a rate greater than it can be replaced.” Keeping the water balance in your body is a complex process. That is why older adults often suffer from dehydration – which in some cases, can be fatal. The authors suggest examining urine to determine hydration levels. The more concentrated and dark the urine, the more off-balance we are.

Let’s examine with the symptoms of dehydration. Remember, now, I’m not the kind of doctor that is an expert in this area, so make sure you are always checking with your doc if you don’t feel well.

Picture of the symptoms of dehydration

The interwebs are full of suggestions on how to keep hydrated, usually involving their product. Heck, the infographic above has all kinds of ideas for you. What do the doctors say?

The American Heart Association says that you should be aware of your hydration needs, and basically listen to your body. Certain medications as well as excessive sweating increase the amount of fluids you need. Changes in climate and elevation can also affect your need for water. Water, in most cases, is enough to hydrate your body.

The Cleveland Clinic advises against relying on caffeinated beverages and alcoholic drinks to meet your hydration needs (boo!). They also recommend limiting fruit juices and sugary drinks, as the carb/sodium ratio might upset your stomach. I notice that after drinking really sugary beverages, I’m slightly nauseated – especially on a hot day.

In my case, I have orthostatic hypotension (part of the cocktail that comes with my genetic issues – did someone say cocktail?) and have been advised to use an electrolyte supplement. When I’m really behind in the hydration game, the best thing for me is Gatorade. But on a regular basis, I’d rather not consume that many calories. Plus see the upset stomach suggestion above. There are some really good, low-calorie hydration tabs on the market that I use in those cases. But does the average Dr. Prof need it?

Strangely enough, a lit search on the topic turned up a lot of research in bulls and horses. Wonder why? But anyway, back to humans.

If you are prone to foot or calf cramps with sustained activity, then Jung, et al., (2005) suggests that electrolyte supplementation might be a good idea for you. They compared dehydrated participants to those who consumed electrolyte enhanced drinks, though – they did not include a water-only group. This, in my opinion, limits their conclusions. But it seems that if you are training in the heat, for long periods, or at a high intensity, an electrolyte drink might be for you.

Also remember that it is possible to drink TOO MUCH water. Too much water can throw off your electrolyte balance as well, and can possibly be fatal. It’s rare, but if you feel terrible even though you are drinking enough water, you might very well be overdoing it. Your urine should be light in color, but if you’re peeing what looks like water at a high rate, you might be overdoing it.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a glass of water, or maybe a nice herbal tea….

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