Vail health: Stay hydrated |

Vail health: Stay hydrated

Dr. Drew Werner
VAIL CO, Colorado

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 the 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.

Drink water, not beer

Our bodies are made up of 55-65 percent water. Any less and we’re in trouble. Dehydration is the excessive loss of our bodies normal water and electrolytes (think salts like sodium, potassium and chloride). Mild dehydration is the loss of no more than 5 percent of the bodies 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 to four million sweat glands cause 3 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 hangovers (at least in part) to dehydration. The message, then, is that when you’re hot, exercising or thirsty, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine.

Drink half your weight (in ounces)

Why do we need water? All our organs need it to function optimally. Let’s look at several of these:

o Our vascular system needs water to maintain adequate blood pressure, which gives oxygen to our tissues and carries away carbon dioxide and other toxins.

o Our hearts need water to maintain a critical balance of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes, which keep it beating regularly.

o Our lungs need water to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.

o Our brains need water to think clearly and allow us to send the signals that keep our muscles working.

o Our skin needs water to keep us cool. Those two to 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, quickly causing our hearts, brains and kidneys to stop working.

A simple way to think about how many ounces of fluid you should drink every day is to divide your weight (in pounds) by two. Thus a 180 pound man should drink 90 ounces of fluid each day. The rest of the needed fluids are consumed through foods. Under stressful conditions, such as exercise or illness, your body’s fluid requirements can increase dramatically and may require as much as 20-30 ounces per hour!

With the beauty of the outdoors all around us, get outside and fully enjoy all Colorado has to offer. And no matter how you do that, remember: drink plenty of fluids.

Dr. Drew Werner is a medical staff leader at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, a family physician at TotalHealth Care and the Eagle County health officer. He lives in Eagle with his family. Email comments about this column to

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