“People can last a few days without water depending on the environment in which they find themselves…” (source)
We are all finding ourselves smack in the middle of summer. Months of long, hot, humid days with temperatures sometimes soaring to heated degrees…too many degrees to count. And while you enjoy the passing moments of good ole summertime be sure that you and your loved ones are staying properly hydrated in order to ward off a potential problem from the heat and dehydration.
It’s not just about you and your immediate family either. During the excruciating summer months it’s a good idea to check in on any elderly neighbors or relatives you have too. Many elderly people experience serious health problems and even death during extreme weather periods such as the heat of the summer time. In fact, elderly dehydration is one of the main reasons the elderly are hospitalized each year.
There are several types and levels of dehydration. Dehydration is defined as the excessive loss of body fluids in which the body needs more fluids than are being input to function normally. The body fluids that are lost and desperately needed are either one or the other of the following or a combination of the two:
- Water loss
- Electrolyte loss
Electrolytes are substances that become ions in a solution and are able to conduct electricity. They are present in the human body and essential for normal functioning of organs and cells. There are four main types of electrolytes found in the body. These are the following:
Sodium is a positive ion on the outside of cells. Too much sodium can cause a type of dehydration called hypernatremia.
Potassium is a positive ion found on the inside of cells. Potassium plays a critical role in regulating the heartbeat and muscle function. A deviation in potassium levels either higher than they should be or lower than the body requires can adversely impact the heart rhythm.
Chloride is a negatively charged ion found outside of the cells in the blood. Chloride aids the body in balancing the fluids. A significant increase or decrease in chloride levels in the body can lead to serious health problems including death.
Bicarbonate ions act as a buffer and help the body to maintain the proper pH levels needed. All of these electrolytes are required at specific levels in the body to help keep the pH balanced and maintain critical functions.
Some parts of the body are more ‘electrically wired’ than others requiring these important ions. These body parts are as follows:
- Nervous system
When it comes to fluid loss, there are three main types of dehydration.
- Hypotonic or hyponatremic
- Hypertonic or hypernatremic
- Isotonic or isonatremic
Hypotonic or hyponatremic is the loss of electrolytes, mostly sodium. Hypertonic or hypernatremic is the loss of water, and finally isotonic or isonatremic is the loss of both water and electrolytes.
Any of these three types of dehydration can be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild is when the body has lost about 2% of its total fluids; moderate is the body losing 5% of total fluids, and finally severe is when the body has lost 10% of its fluids and is considered an emergency.
Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration
If you want to avoid health problems from dehydration it’s vital to listen to your body and drink water throughout the day. Water is the best way to prevent and beat dehydration, especially during the warm summer months when we are all prone to perspire even more so than usual.
Simply consuming the recommended eight to ten, eight ounce glasses of water on a daily basis is crucial to maintain a healthy body not just in the summer months but throughout the year.
Once you do get dehydrated you can quickly progress into real trouble if you don’t do something about it – fast! Becoming familiar with the signs and symptoms of dehydration is critical to beating dehydration and at the very least avoiding a hospital visit because of dehydration.
There are subtle differences between the signs of dehydration and the signs of hypernatremia. (Remember hypernatremia is characterized by loss of water more than electrolytes.)
Symptoms of Hypernatremia
- Warm, velvety skin
- Dry mucus membranes
- Complaints of extreme thirst
Some of the symptoms of dehydration and of hypernatremia are similar. Let’s look at the symptoms of dehydration now.
Symptoms of Dehydration
- Dry mouth
- Decreases urination
- Muscle weakness
Symptoms of Severe Dehydration
- Extreme thirst
- Extremely dry mouth and mucus membranes
- Sunken eyes
- Lack of sweating
- Lack of tears
- Very little or no urination
- Skin that won’t ‘bounce back’
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
It’s vital to understand and be familiar with the signs of both dehydration and hypernatremia. Both are serious problems especially in the following groups of people, particularly during periods of extreme heat:
People at Risk for Dehydration and Hypernatremia
- Children and infants
- Chronically ill
- Endurance athletes
- High altitude dwellers
Simple Steps to Avoid Dehydration
The best way to avoid dehydration, particularly during hot summer months, is to be sure you and your loved ones are drinking plenty of pure water on a daily basis, at least eight to ten, eight ounce glasses full. If you are exerting yourself or out in the heat, drink even more water.
Avoiding dehydration is as simple as drinking enough pure water on a daily basis but so many just don’t do this. When you realize the high price your body will pay from a serious case of dehydration or hypernatremia, you’ll be asking for more water to drink everyday.
Top 10 Hydrating Foods
- Coconut Water
- Bell Peppers
- Citrus Fruit
- Cultured Dairy (amasai/kefir/yogurt)
Coconut Water for Hydration
In a previous article I made the statement “Coconut water is one of nature’s best hydrating drinks.” It contains many things that contribute to hydration like amino acids, enzymes, growth factors and minerals. The chemical makeup of coconut water is similar to our blood which makes it perfect to help our bodies recover from dehydration.