Dr. Carlos Prendes is a board-certified family medicine physician at Alegent Creighton Clinic in Millard.
Q: Do Midwesterners drink enough water?
Dr. Prendes: The question of "do we drink enough water" is a slippery one since we can get our fluids through sources other than plain water, like through liquids from the food we eat. Awareness of the importance of good hydration is much better now than when I was growing up. I see people with water at their desks, in their cars and in-hand much more now than at any time in the past. While not everyone gets enough fluids every day, most people generally do get enough through the combination of plain-old water combined with other sources. (That being said, every patient I see goes home with instructions to continue to push fluids.)
Q: Can you drink too much? How much is enough?
Dr. Prendes: Yes, you can drink too much water, but under most circumstances it is hard to do. Water intoxication is caused by over-consumption of plain water, which dilutes the concentration of sodium in the blood (hyponatremia). It is most-commonly seen in infants drinking formula that has been overly diluted. However, it can also be seen in athletes (or people who sweat a lot) who replace fluids too quickly without also replacing electrolytes. You'll notice I mentioned replacing fluids too quickly, because the kidneys can process 15 liters of fluids a day, but not all at once. Water remains about the healthiest thing you can put into your body.
Q: Are hydration issues different for kids?
Dr. Prendes: People of all ages need adequate fluids, but not all ages need the same amount. General health and condition contribute to what is adequate per day. Kids weigh less than adults, and probably don't need to drink quite as much (fluid requirements change with weight). That said, kids generally forget to drink enough water; if they are going to the bathroom every few hours, then they are likely OK. Be aware that if they are a bit dehydrated, they can feel sluggish and get headaches.
Q: What if you don't like to drink water?
Dr. Prendes: Those who don't like water can try adding a slice of cucumber, orange, lemon or frozen grapes to make it taste a bit different. Milk, tea, decaf coffee, coconut water, low-sugar sports drinks and water additives (like Mio and Crystal Light) all contain fluids that "count" toward your daily fluid intake. Good news for the non-water enthusiasts: anything with juice or water in it will also contribute to your overall hydration, like: grapes, watermelon, cantaloupes, low-sodium broths and soups, oranges and green peppers. Avoid caffeine and alcohol for sure (use moderation and drink plenty of "good" fluids to counteract the "not as good"). Limit the amount of sweet, high-sugar products you consume (this is good advice in general, not just for hydration) and you will be fine.
Q: What is the most important thing to know about staying hydrated?
Dr. Prendes: Much like the changing weather of the Midwest, how much fluid we need changes every day. Observe your body's cues. When you urinate, if you leave the bowl dark yellow, you need to drink more. If you stop sweating, you need to drink A LOT more. The body isn't specific in its signals, and we sometimes eat when we are actually thirsty, so have a nice drink of water before you snack. Hot weather, windy and hot weather, and humid weather conditions – basically, summer around here – increase your hydration needs, so act accordingly. When you are sick, especially with a fever, you need more fluids. When exercising, if you wait to start drinking until you are thirsty, then you have waited too long, and your performance may suffer. Finally, remember that your kidneys are doing their job. All that water you drank yesterday was great, but you still need to keep drinking it today. It doesn't take long to get a bit behind on your fluids, so raise a glass. Cheers.
This article originally appeared in the Alegent Creighton Health enewsletter. To subscribe, click here.