Dehydration in the summer: Sweating out the good stuff
Man, it’s been a hot summer, and it’s not over yet. Even those glowing summer revellers who insist, “The hotter the better!” seem to be wilting in a puddle of perspiration, crankiness and lethargy. All that sweating might offer the benefit of a cheap, spa-style steam, but it’s critical to replenish all those evaporated fluids regularly and healthily.
And whether you prefer a jog on the mountain or hiding out in the shade of a tree, dehydration can set in pretty quickly, especially when the air is as thick and hot as pea-soup. Dehydration causes us to lose electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate. In the right balance, electrolytes help our cells and organs to function. But when we perspire profusely, that balance can be thrown off.
The first sign of dehydration is thirst, which for most people is easily remedied. Special attention, however, should be given to small children – especially in the first three months of life as a baby’s body temperature regulation system is not yet fully developed. The elderly also may require special attention as they may not always be able to easily recognize or communicate their needs or level of thirst. If left unquenched, the body will try to preserve its liquids, causing infrequent urination and even a cessation of perspiration. Other signs of dehydration include urine that is a dark yellow colour, muscle cramping and dizziness, vomiting, heart palpitations and fainting. Severe dehydration can lead to coma, organ failure and cardiac arrest.
With well-paid, glistening sport heroes touting the latest thirst quencher and other quirky ads promising to boost your energy, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) nutritionist Robin Glance warns that many of those drinks are not necessarily healthy due to a very high sodium and sugar content. “They simply aren’t worth the high cost to your health or pocket book.” Instead, Glance suggests that the best way to stay well hydrated by simply “taking lots of small sips of water throughout the day and during activities.” In terms of replenishing electrolytes lost due to excessive sweating or during times of high heat or high levels of exertion over extended periods of time, Glance offers a much healthier – and far less expensive – option to commercial drinks : 1 part orange juice, 2 parts water, and ¼ tsp of salt. “That combination contains everything most people need to rebalance their electrolytes.”
Another cooling trick that goes over well with kids is homemade popsicles made from fresh juice and fruits (and you can even sneak in some veggies like spinach, cucumber and celery). They are a fraction of the cost of the commercial ones and, if you make them with fresh, natural ingredients, they won’t contain processed sugars or synthetic colours, flavourings and preservatives. Even gnawing on a frozen peeled banana with a popsicle stick stuck into it can be fun treat and a great source of potassium. Those homemade treats along with regular water sipping should help keep kids feel cool and stay hydrated. Herbal teas and broths are also a good way to stay hydrated, but wine coolers, beer and ice coffee drinks, refreshing as they might taste, may actually exacerbate dehydration.When we get caught up in an activity, we can tend to ignore the signs of dehydration, or just want to push through, and sometimes the heat can make us lose our appetites. Glance recommends eating several light meals throughout the day, noting that the abundance of fresh fruits and veggies – which are replete with water and electrolytes – can help easily compensate for our hydration needs and keep us energized.