Heat, Humidity and Hydration – Reducing the Risk of Dehydration in the Hot Summer Months
Over the last 20 years, Americans have become more aware of the importance of drinking adequate fluids and have made water their beverage of choice. However, it is still estimated that seventy-five percent have mild, chronic dehydration which is a common cause of daytime fatigue and headaches. So while it may be common knowledge that we need to drink lots of water each day, we aren’t always drinking enough.
With summer in full swing, people are also spending more time outdoors in the high heat and humidity — losing much more water and putting them at greater risk of dehydration. Thirst, dry mouth, fatigue or sleepiness, headache, weakness, lightheadedness or dizziness and especially low urine output (which increases risk for UTI) are all initial signs of dehydration.
On average, adults lose about 2.5 liters (10 cups) of water a day simply by doing everyday tasks. So, the average person requires between 2 and 3 liters a day to replenish that loss. But higher temperatures will cause much higher water losses. In higher heat and humidity, simple tasks like mowing the lawn, rearranging furniture, gardening or even throwing a Frisbee around at the beach will result in losing as much as a liter per hour! That fluid loss has to be replaced in addition to baseline needs, and ups the usual 2.5 liters necessary to 3 or 4 liters and often more. Even those who have adopted a healthy lifestyle of exercise, hydration and healthy eating, may not be aware of the significant extent to which excess heat affects hydration status.
Parties, fun in the sun, on the beach or at the backyard barbecue can spell trouble for hydration status because alcohol is a known diuretic, and so are sugary soft drinks. Many people think that because they are drinking fluids, it’s not a problem, making it extremely important to educate patients that sun and alcohol can lead to serious dehydration — before they find out the hard way! Staying properly hydrated, especially in hot weather, requires a conscious effort, and is essential to optimal health.
While on the topic, you can’t really talk about drinking more water, if you don’t address water quality. We also need to get the message out there to patients, that an investment in a high-quality water filter is an important investment in their health. While we don’t always have control over the quality of water we drink away from home, it makes a lot of sense to drink the best water we can at home, and bring that good quality water along with us in glass water bottles.
It also doesn’t hurt to remind patients that ample water is required for healthy cellular metabolism and proper organ function and how remaining adequately hydrated benefits their health in so many ways. They should be reminded that it’s part of their healing process.
Offering tips to achieve that will help. At home, I have two glass 2 liter pitchers I fill each morning with fresh filtered water. One stays on the counter and one goes in the fridge. My goal is to make sure I drink all the water in those two pitchers every day and most of the time I do. And if I can do it, anyone can!
A frequent complaint I hear from patients is they get bored with water, and want something with flavor. A good alternative to the artificially sweetened “flavor enhancers” in the grocery stores, is to recommend using a splash of fruit juice or a little of your favorite all natural electrolyte powder, usually with natural flavors and sometimes sweetened with stevia. Add a little ice, and what’s not to like?
While many people are trying hard to live a healthy lifestyle and know adequate hydration is important, asking a patient if they drink enough water is like asking if they get enough sleep. They may answer yes, but it may not be true! So let’s all remember to add a daily “water prescription” to every treatment plan including our own, for a healthy, happy and hydrated summer!
Lisa Murray RDN, LD