By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
As summer in Bermuda continues, with temperatures regularly in the 80’s, we are able to enjoy the many outdoor activities that our climate allows, including tennis, golf, gardening or simply taking a walk on our lunchtime break. While these activities benefit our minds and bodies, the risk of dehydration increases, especially for the younger and senior members of our population.
Dehydration takes hold when our bodies lose more fluid that they take in. You may have heard the recommendation to drink eight glasses of water a day, but the actual amount of fluids that you need to consume could be more, depending on your lifestyle, health and environment.
Why We Need to Hydrate
Our systems (skeletal, nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine and muscular, and integumentary – skin and its appendages) depend on water to function. Water also serves to flush toxins from our organs, which are comprised mostly of water, and also helps carry nutrients to cells.
In hot and humid weather, and when we are exercising, our bodies may sweat more than normal. During our humid Bermuda summers, it is difficult for sweat to evaporate and cool us off, thereby increasing our body temperature. When we breathe, sweat and urinate, we lose water. We also lose fluids when we are ill, especially when suffering from fever, vomiting or diarrhoea.
Higher Risk for Dehydration
Infants and young children, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and older adults need to be especially cautious of their fluid intake, as they can become dehydrated quickly, with potentially serious outcomes.
As we age, the water content in our body decreases, as does our sense of thirst. People who have incontinence or mobility issues may be inclined to reduce their fluid intake, without knowing how quickly their bodies can become dehydrated.
Symptoms of Dehydration
Mild to moderate symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, fatigue, thirst, dry skin, headache, constipation and dizziness. In infants and toddlers, fewer wet diapers is a common indicator.
Severe dehydration shows itself with sunken eyes, extreme thirst, rapid heartbeat and breathing, fever and low blood pressure. Infants may be extremely fussy and the soft spots on their heads may appear shrunken in. Senior citizens may become very confused and irritable.
The most straightforward way to know if someone is dehydrated is to consider the colour of his or her urine. If it is pale or clear, he or she is likely well-hydrated. If the amount of urine output has significantly decreased, or if it is dark yellow or amber, dehydration may be to blame.
Water Isn’t the Only Option
Regardless of how fluids are lost, it is important that we compensate for the loss, and rehydrate.
Most fluids will help hydrate our bodies, including milk, juice, tea and coffee; however, the additional calories, caffeine and sugar may not be desirable. Caffeine has a diuretic effect, so watch the amounts of tea and coffee consumed as they can actually cause you to become dehydrated. For optimal hydration, opt for low sugar, low sodium beverages.
Coconut water has become a popular beverage in Bermuda, with brands including Vita Coco Coconut Water, Coco Libre and Harvest Bay Flavoured Coconut Water. Coconut water has natural electrolytes (including potassium, sodium and magnesium) but the actual amounts will vary by brand. This beverage may be a consideration for those who do not like plain water, but want to consume less sugar that what is found in most sports drinks.
For those of us on the go, a reusable water bottle may be the best choice. Rubbermaid Filler Fresh Water Bottles come equipped with a built in filter and are designed to remove chlorine.
Hydration can also be achieved through consuming common fruits and vegetables with high water content. Watermelon, cucumber, lettuce and spinach, celery, tomatoes, cauliflower, strawberries and broccoli are all comprised of at least 90% water.
In some cases, health professionals may recommend rehydrating with sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade, or an oral rehydration solution (such as Dioralyte, Pedialyte and Nuun) following extreme exercise or when suffering from certain health conditions.
As with many health issues, preventing dehydration may be easier than recovering from it. When the weather is warmer and more humid, or when activity levels will be higher, plan to consume more fluids and snack on fruits and vegetables with high water contents.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.