Natural refreshment.

(Special Report)

(water, health, and dehydration)


American Fitness; 7/1/2002; Deppe, Michele

Rachel consumed a well-balanced diet, worked out consistently and got plenty of rest. However, instead of enjoying the energy she expected from her healthy lifestyle, Rachel felt awful most of the time. Frustrated by constant headaches and fatigue, Rachel scheduled an appointment with her doctor. Her doctor's advice was simple: Drink more water.

* Water Contributes to Wellness

Dehydration causes many common health complaints, such as headaches, mental fogginess, lethargy, anxiety, muscle fatigue and chronic diseases. Headaches occur when inadequate fluid consumption constrict and dilate blood vessels, creating a spasm in the head and causing pain. When headache sufferers consume large amounts of caffeine and artificial sweeteners (which increase dehydration), they unintentionally intensify their pain. Poor hydration also causes unclear thinking. A study published by the Archives of Environmental Health signified that mild dehydration caused decreased visual ability, short-term memory and difficulty solving addition and subtraction problems.

Susan M. Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., FACN, an affiliate professor of the Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Washington in Seattle as well as author of Power Eating and High-Performance Nutrition, blames common ailments on inadequate hydration. "When you get dehydrated, muscle fatigue kicks in. A lot of people notice it in their legs--they've got to sit down," she says. Staying hydrated during workouts prevents overheating and improves physical endurance. Mildly dehydrated exercisers fatigue 25 percent faster than hydrated exercisers. Even a scant 2 percent decrease in hydration can cause endurance performance to drop 6 or 7 percent. Also, dehydrated muscles are more likely to develop cramps and spasms.

* Thirst: A Poor Indicator

If you only drink water when you are thirsty, you probably aren't drinking enough. "Our thirst mechanisms aren't usually a good indicator of when we need water. When you become thirsty, chances are you are already mildly dehydrated," Dr. Kleiner explains. Not drinking enough water causes blood to become concentrated as well as heavy on salt and other solutes. Solutes pull water out of the salivary glands causing thirst.

Kleiner's studies indicate that approximately half of Americans are dehydrated and suffer related symptoms. Most people lose about 10 cups of water daily through urination, perspiration and respiration. Since your body cannot store excess water, you need to replenish it by drinking 9 to 11 cups (8 ounce servings) of fluids a day.

* Healing Waters

New studies show drinking water may also buffer diseases, such as asthma, heart problems and cancer. Water can positively influence respiratory problems. A study at the University of Buffalo found asthmatic individuals have worse lung function when dehydrated and are more likely to suffer attacks.

Heart health is also improved by drinking water. Dehydration can decrease blood volume, force the heart to pump harder and increase the risk of heart attack. Mitral valve prolapse syndrome (MVPS) is a cardiac condition that occurs when the mitral valve (which separates the top of the heart from the bottom) doesn't close properly, causing a back flow of blood. In a study of MVPS, at the University of Arizona, researchers duplicated the symptoms of this condition by inducing dehydration in healthy individuals.

Like a cleansing river, water flushes the intestines providing protection against kidney stones, urinary tract infections, constipation and cancer causing agents. Researchers in England revealed an immense decrease of breast cancer risk in women who drink sufficient amounts of water. According to a study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, individuals who drank at least four, eight ounce, glasses of water daily reduced their risk of colon cancer by 46 percent, compared to those who only drank two glasses a day. The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii concluded that women who drank eight glasses of water a day reduced their risk of developing bladder cancer by 80 percent.

Kleiner says these studies are well conducted and although the results are not definite, the information is very significant. "People say the participants were health conscious water drinkers [with] other good health practices that lower[ed] their risk for problems, but that is not really the case," she explains. "Other health factors and habits were taken into consideration, [yet] water consumption was still a remarkable factor. Someone who falls short in other areas of good health habits can benefit immensely from drinking water." The healing capabilities of water astounds researchers. "We don't understand what makes water so special," Kleiner says, "but water has special properties we can't [get] anywhere else."

* You're Not Hungry, You're Thirsty

It is easy to confuse thirst for hunger pangs. If you are eating a healthy diet in effort to lose excess pounds or control your weight, water can help. Drinking a glass of water before a meal of to stave off snacking urges is a simple and effective weight loss strategy. According to Kelly Brownell, psychologists and director for the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, drinking water with meals causes you to eat less food, helping you control portion sizes. Water accomplishes this task without adding calories and provides necessary hydration as well.

* The Superior Beverage

A recent study conducted at the Center for Human Nutrition in Omaha, Nebraska, has received a lot of attention. The study indicates caffeinated beverages contribute to our fluid needs, even though they act as diuretics (i.e., draw water from the body to produce more urine). Kleiner warns the results of this study have been misinterpreted by the media. "The study was based on people drinking two cups of coffee, which counted towards their total fluid consumption for the day. They found that two cups of caffeinated beverages didn't cause dehydration," she says.

"There are two interesting points of this study," states Kleiner. "Two cups a day is probably the limit of caffeinated beverages you can consume without initiating dehydration. In a German study, people who consumed six cups of coffee a day were mildly dehydrated. Between the two studies, you can see the difference as a dose response. The good news is you can enjoy a little coffee and count it towards your total fluid consumption for the day, but that doesn't mean caffeinated beverages [can] replace water." The second finding showed eight cups of fluid a day isn't enough. "My recommendations are 9 to 11 cups a day," says Kleiner. "For additional caffeinated beverages, drink an extra hall to one cup of water per beverage to counterbalance the diuretic effects."

Many of us think we are too busy to heed our thirst, thus exposing ourselves to a host of avoidable ailments. There are few health practices as easy to adopt, with such rewards, as drinking water. The inconvenience pales in comparison to how great we feel when adequately hydrated.

Tips for Quenching Your Thirst

* Have a Plan

Just as you plan your meals, have a water plan, too. Drink a glass of water in the morning and before going to sleep. To stay alert during your day, take a water break at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Keep a water bottle handy and, if necessary, schedule your water goal into your daily planner.

* Mind the Cues

By the time you feel thirsty, dehydration is already underway. Reports from the Mayo Clinic indicate mild dehydration symptoms can include lethargy, anxiety, constipation, loss of appetite, headaches and mental fogginess.

* Added Measures

Drink more than usual if you are flying in a plane, ill, exposed to extreme weather (cold weather and high altitudes are just as dehydrating as sizzling summer days), pregnant or nursing. While working out, drink an extra eight ounces of water for every 20 minutes you exercise.

* Drink What Counts

Satisfy your thirst with flavored, sparkling, carbonated or bottled water. Milk, juice and tea are a close second, but limit caffeinated beverages to two cups (16 ounces) a day.

* Cold Slows You Down

The University of Bristol in England found evidence that drinking cold water before an important event may decrease your physical or mental performance by as much as 15 percent. Drink room temperature water on your big day, so your body doesn't use extra energy to warm the water.

* Read the Label

Heed instructions indicating medications be taken with plenty of water. Drugs can become concentrated in the bloodstream and aren't as effective without adequate hydration.

* Something isn't Right

Excessive thirst and urination can be warning signs for diseases, such as diabetes. Consult your doctor if you notice conspicuous changes.


* Kleiner, Susan M. "Dangerously Dehydrated: How Dry Are You?" Shape, September 2001.

* Kuzemchak, Sally. "Drink Up!" Parenting, June 6, 2001. MAF Fitness Newsletter. Vol. VII, Issue 6, November/December 2000.

* Robbin, Rachel. "Liquid Assets." Vegetarian Times, August 2000.

* Tennesen, Michael. "A Drink to Your Health." Health, June 2000, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp. 88.

* Tufts University: Health & Nutrition Letter. "Coffee Helps You Meet Fluid Needs, Too." Vol. 19, Number 5, July 2001.

Michele Deppe is addicted to kick boxing, weight training and horseback riding. She holds an associate's degree in nutrition/dietetics. Deppe writes about health issues and is a registered dietetic technician. She resides in Dayton, Ohio.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Aerobics and Fitness Association of America

The above article is from American Fitness, July 1, 2002.


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