Surprising signs of dehydration and how to prevent them

Originally published by Kaiser Permanente on their NW Health Blog

Symptoms like headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue aren’t always signs of a serious illness. You might just need a glass of water. Those signs, plus dry mouth, muscle weakness, and nausea could be due to dehydration.

Summer Hydration: Adjusting for Heat and Physical Activity

Dehydration can happen any time of the year, but you’re most vulnerable in summer’s heat. Your body uses water in the fluids you drink to cool itself—so the hotter it is, the more fluids you need.

You need even more water during popular summer activities like gardening, hiking, or even just taking a stroll. Endurance athletes and people doing physical work outside on hot days need the most water of all.

You can experience signs of dehydration without understanding why if you haven’t adjusted your fluid intake for the weather and your level of activity. The good news is that most of us can tell when we need more water, and that it’s relatively easy to avoid chronic dehydration by making hydration part of your daily routine.

Healthy Ways to Hydrate

Healthy hydration is all about choosing the right drinks in the right amounts according to Alyssa DeBord, a Women, Infants & Children (WIC) Dietitian and Coordinator for Kaiser Permanente. “About 20 percent of our hydration needs are met by food—the rest comes from what we drink,” DeBord says.

Many people consider sports drinks and fruit juice to be healthy choices, but in most cases, plain water is best.

Fruit Juice

Fruit juice is a pleasant, nutritious treat on a hot day, but should not be a first choice for hydration. Juice is best enjoyed in moderation because of its high sugar content.

“The healthiest way to consume fruits is by eating them in their whole form,” says DeBord. “That’s because juicing removes fiber and concentrates naturally occurring sugars, which increase the risk of dental caries. Popular juice brands also often have added sugar, and sometimes aren’t even 100 percent juice.”

Sports Drinks

Some people turn to sports drinks for hydration, but in most cases these drinks provide little except empty calories.

One exception is for those engaged in strenuous, long-duration activity of an hour or more. The added sugar and electrolytes in sports drinks can benefit endurance athletes, like cyclists and runners, as well as those doing intense physical work such as roofing.

Energy Drinks

Another hydration concern is so-called energy drinks. Energy drinks, like sports drinks, normally contain significant amounts of added sugar. They also contain caffeine, which is unhelpful in hydrating drinks because it promotes urination. Excessive caffeine can also cause problems such as an irregular heartbeat, increased thirst, headache, and even fever.

Healthy Alternatives to High-Sugar Drinks

There are many all-natural, low-sugar drinks you can make at home according to DeBord. “If plain tap water is too boring for your taste buds, consider adding a few slices of lemon, lime, or orange. Or you could create your own soda pop by mixing 100 percent fruit juice with sparkling water. Both options add calories to your water, but have significantly fewer calories and added sugar than their store-bought counterparts.”

For a sugar-free option, DeBord suggests coconut water: “Coconut water is an alternative to homemade soda drinks that is sugar free, relatively low in calories, and offers electrolytes that support hydration including potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium, and phosphorous.”

6 More Hydration Tips

  1. Drink six to eight glasses of water per day (more when you’re exercising).
  2. Fill a pitcher with water every morning and finish it by day’s end.
  3. Send children to school with a water bottle. Schools with policies against drinks in class may make an exception with a medical note.
  4. At meals, set a pitcher of ice water on the table.
  5. Eat fruits with high water content such as strawberries, watermelon, grapefruit, and peaches.
  6. Eat vegetables with high water content including cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, zucchini, and red, green, and yellow peppers.

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