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How to Prevent Dehydration This Summer

by Laura Beans

ER Doctor—and star of NBC’s reality show, The Island—gives tips to prevent dehydration in the sweltering heat of summer

In the sweltering summer months, when heat and humidity are at their highest, dehydration can creep up on even the most compulsive water-drinkers. This time of year, from vacations to block parties, our priority is getting outside and taking advantage of every sunny day the season has to offer. But while we kick back and relax, soak up some sun and celebrate the summer, we have to keep in mind a few cardinal rules on hydration.

Body of water

On average, an adult human body is made up of 60 percent water. This water is essential to almost all organs and systems in the body. It is a necessity in variety of basic functions; from forming saliva to aid in digestion, to eliminating wastes, to lubricating joints, to acting as a shock absorber in the brain and spinal cord.

The water in your body also regulates internal temperature. Sweating is how the body banishes heat when it is warm, in an effort to prevent overheating: As sweat evaporates off the skin, it cools the body tissues beneath.

Besides being vital to hydration and our everyday health, water consumption also greatly benefits your skin, acting as an effective—and inexpensive!— moisturizer. Drinking water regularly can keep your skin smooth, supple and clear.

 Water, water, everywhere

Excessive perspiration this time of year can drastically reduce water levels in the body (as well as electrolyte levels), leading to dehydration, and adversely affecting bodily functions.

“In the most serious cases, dehydration can eventually harm the body, causing seizures, kidney failure and even death,” explains Dr. Buck Parker, a board certified trauma surgeon, and cast member and medical expert of NBC’s reality TV show, The Island, which challenges participants to survive on a deserted island without the basics of modern life.

THE ISLAND Season: 1 Pictured: Alton "Buck" Parker. Photo credit: Chris Haston/NBC

THE ISLAND Season: 1 Pictured: Alton “Buck” Parker. Photo credit: Chris Haston/NBC

According to the National Institute of Health you can lose up to a quart of liquid per day through sweating.

“Anyone can be affected by extreme heat but the most vulnerable are children, the elderly or anyone with other health issues,” says Dr. Parker.

According to recent research, 25 percent of older adults living on their own do not drink enough water, sometimes due to confusion or forgetfulness, and coupled with daily medication some seniors may rely on, can exacerbate the risk of dehydration.

Anyone living with a chronic illness—like diabetes or kidney disease—is more susceptible to dehydration. And because of their small body weights, infants and children are also at a greater risk.

To learn a little more about dehydration, Organic Spa Magazine spoke with Dr. Parker about the basics, the fads and the facts.

OSM: Dehydration kind of sneaks up on most people, who may not even realize they are dehydrated. How much fluid do we need daily in order not to dehydrate? 

BP: The standard answer for fluids per day is about 3 liters. That includes all the water—as well as the liquid in food—that is consumed per day.

However, I will tell you from first-hand knowledge from living on The Island that you can “survive” on less … but it’s just not a great idea. If we are talking about the usual hot summer environment doing our normal daily activities, 3 liters per day is best—especially if you want your skin to look the best, and your brain to function at optimal levels.

OSM: Is it helpful to drink coconut water or look for other sources of electrolytes, or is plain water the best?

BP: Coconut water is a great alternative to regular water. It does have some electrolytes in it, however they are pretty negligible… so it’s more of a personal preference of taste in the end.

There are a lot of people touting the benefits of coconut water in regards to its electrolyte content, but the bottom line is there isn’t really a significant amount of electrolytes in it.  For most healthy people with normal kidney functions, just drinking regular water is best along with a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables.

That being said, I love coconut water and do drink it from time to time just for a different taste. You can always throw some mint in water to give it a little taste if you’re bored with drinking plain water.

THE ISLAND episode "No Water, No Life"

THE ISLAND episode “No Water, No Life”

OSM: Is it also helpful to cut back on caffeine and other diuretics during this time of year and why?  

BP: It’s certainly helpful to cut back on caffeine or other diuretics this time of the year because we can be dehydrated more easily in the hotter months.

The diuretics basically let the kidney (and your body) lose more water than normal. Increased activities in the summer months mean we breathe more, and as in we take deeper breaths and more of them, and the respiratory system is a place where we can lose a ton of water by evaporation.

We also sweat more with increased activity, and thus lose more water. Combine that with the heat of the sun, and in the summer months we can dehydrate faster than in the cooler months. So if we are taking diuretics (of which caffeine is one), we are basically fighting an uphill battle trying to stay properly hydrated in the hotter months of the year.

I guess saving those Pumpkin Spice lattes for November is a good idea after all!

Learn the warning signs of dehydration:

– increased thirst

– dry mouth

– dizziness or even fainting

– feeling weak, tired or confused

– flushed skin

– dark-colored urine

Proper prevention checklist:

Drink water regularly. Thirst indicates impending dehydration, so it’s important to drink water frequently, before you reach the point of being parched. For a tasty alternative, try infusing your H2O with fruits, veggies and herbs.

Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a diuretic, which limits the bodies’ ability to absorb water and increases urination. In excess, alcohol can also induce vomiting, further depleting the body of fluids.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Any foods that have high water content and are loaded with electrolytes are good choices in the summer months.

Eliminate soft drinks or other caffeinated beverages. Drinking beverages that contain sugar and/or caffeine to quench your thirst will only further dehydrate the body.

Limit sun exposure and seek the shade when possible. Wear cool, loose clothing made from lightweight, natural fabrics such as cottons and linens to stay as cool as possible in the heat.

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