Drink and be merry!
When I started to write this article, I recalled a paper my father wrote in college entitled “Why Beer is Safer Than Water.” Although he never was a beer drinker, he expounded on the attributes and safety of beer.
It was obvious he recognized that no one ever drowned in a lake, river or stream from beer. No one was ever struck by lightning from a beer storm. A house never flooded in the spring from too much beer, and I’m sure beer will never wash away I-70 and cause a sinkhole.
Beer doesn’t cause our cars to rust or landscape to erode. We never slip in the winter on a frozen patch of “black beer.” The arguments are almost endless!
Despite these compelling arguments, however, the real focus of this article is water, or more specifically, dehydration. No matter how good a cold beer sounds or tastes, it is water that keeps us going.
Our bodies are made up of 55-65 percent water. Any less and we’re in big trouble. Dehydration is the excessive loss of our body’s normal water and electrolytes (think salts like sodium, potassium and chloride).
Mild dehydration is the loss of no more than 5 percent of the body’s fluid. Loss of 5-10 percent is considered moderate dehydration. Severe dehydration (loss of 10-15 percent of body fluids) is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical care.
Once we’re thirsty, we are already approaching 3-5 percent dehydration. It doesn’t take much more to rapidly put us in a tailspin.
Assuming good health (no illness causing fluid loss like vomiting or diarrhea), there are many ways for us to get dehydrated. Routine or “sensible” fluid losses are obvious and easily measured when we go to the bathroom. Urinary losses account for about 1 quart of fluid a day and stool adds a bit more to that. That is how we eliminate toxins from our bodies. Insensible losses account for the rest.
Our two million to four million sweat glands cause three to 80 ounces of fluid loss per hour! That is directly affected by our level of activity, clothing we are wearing, outside temperature, humidity, and our level of physical conditioning.
In addition, along with some medications, alcohol and caffeine are diuretics. That is, they cause us to lose excessive fluids. In fact, some research has attributed hang-overs in part to dehydration! The message, then, is that when you’re hot, exercising or thirsty, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine!
Why do we need water? All our organs need it to function optimally. Let’s look at several of these:
n Our vascular system needs water to maintain adequate blood pressure, which gives oxygen to our tissues and carries away carbon dioxide and other toxins.
n Our hearts need water to maintain a critical balance of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes, which keep it beating regularly.
n Our lungs need water to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.
n Our brains need water to think clearly and allow us to send the signals that keep our muscles working.
n Our skin needs water to keep us cool. Those two million-four million sweat glands are the body’s radiator, using evaporation to cool us down. Take away blood flow to the skin and we quickly overheat, causing our hearts, brains and kidneys to stop working.
To figure how much water we need, not counting excess losses through illness, exercise or medication, use this formula:
1. Add one quart for the first 22 pounds of body weight.
2. Add one-half quart for the next 10 pounds of body weight.
3. Add six ounces for each 10 pounds of body weight after that.
A person weighing 180 pounds, for example, would require at least 136 ounces of water daily. All fluids count, except caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. Those add fluid, but then take some away through their diuretic properties so the net gain is about half. We get fluids through the food we eat, as well, so subtract 10-20 percent for that. If you’re exercising or perspiring moderately to heavily, then use the above numbers as a minimum.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends:
1. Individuals consume a nutritionally balanced diet and drink adequate fluids during the 24-hour period before an event, especially during the period that includes the meal prior to exercise, to promote proper hydration before exercise or competition.
2. Individuals drink about 500 ml (about 17 ounces) of fluid about two hours before exercise to promote adequate hydration and allow time for excretion of excess ingested water.
3. During exercise, one should start drinking early and at regular intervals in an attempt to consume fluids at a rate sufficient to replace all the water lost through sweating (i.e., body weight loss), or consume the maximal amount that can be tolerated.
4. Ingested fluids be cooler than ambient temperature [between 15 degrees and 22 degrees C (59 degrees and 72 degrees F])] and flavored to enhance palatability and promote fluid replacement. Fluids should be readily available and served in containers that allow adequate volumes to be ingested with ease and with minimal interruption of exercise.
5. Addition of proper amounts of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes to a fluid replacement solution is recommended for exercise events of duration greater than one hour since it does not significantly impair water delivery to the body and may enhance performance. During exercise lasting less than one hour, there is little evidence of physiological or physical performance differences between consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink and plain water.
Remember your health is your responsibility! Health is our greatest asset and it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, or questions are left unanswered don’t wait, call your doctor.
Dr. Drew Werner writes a weekly column for the Daily. Write him c/o Editor, Vail Daily, by e-mail to email@example.com or P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658.