Doctors say most Americans are dehydrated
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It’s early afternoon and you’re starting to feel that dip in energy. While your “go-to” might be a cup of coffee or chai latte, doctors say what your body really needs is water.
“The No. 1 cause of midday fatigue is dehydration,” said Dr. Kendra Frazier, senior medical director at Oak Street Health. “Every day at 2 o’clock, this happens to me. I work in a clinic all day seeing patients, so my boss said, ‘Every time you feel that way, drink a full glass of water.’ You have more energy when you drink water throughout the day. It also helps with concentration and short-term memory.”
Frazier said the standard amount of healthy water consumption is eight glasses a day, with each glass containing 6 to 8 ounces. With 75 percent of Americans being chronically dehydrated, Frazier said seniors and children are in need of being monitored because they may not know they are at risk.
“The signals that tell us about thirst that go to our brain, they work less as we get older and when we’re younger,” Frazier said. “For young people because their systems haven’t quite developed, and for my seniors which I count at 65 and up, it’s like we’re hitting the mute button and not listening to the signs, and then we get this severe thirst where we’re so thirsty. By the time you sense that you’re thirsty, you’re already well into dehydration at that point.”
Other symptoms of dehydration include dizziness, headache, lethargy, brain fog, irritability, confusion, infrequent urination, constipation and muscle cramps.
More severely, dehydration can be linked to seizures, and chest pains.
“Severe dehydration can lead to a coma, it can even cause death,” Frazier said. “It’s really something that’s very serious especially when it’s something that’s so preventable. “
Here are some ways to avoid dehydration:
Add a glass of water to your morning routine.
“The first thing you need to start the day is not a cup of coffee, it’s a glass of water,” said Frazier. “Most of us sleep six to eight hours a night, and that’s a big chunk of the 24-hour day where we’re not drinking or eating any foods that have water naturally in it, and so when you wake up, your body is actually in a state where you’re the most dehydrated. When you wake up in the morning, you should have a full 8-ounce glass of water just to kick-start your day, just to get your body and your organs to wake up and say ‘Hey, this is what I’ve been looking for.’”
Limit your coffee intake to one cup a day.
“Now we are a generation of coffee drinkers with a Starbucks at every corner,” Frazier said. “I know people who drink four to five cups of coffee a day. And all of that dehydrates our system. One cup of coffee is the standard 6- to 8-ounce cup, not the 20-ounce version you see these days. Everyone is allotted their one cup of coffee or caffeine, as long as you then follow up with a supplement of a glass of water.”
Not all water is the same.
Frazier said carbonated water or sports drinks should not be considered a substitute as one of the allotted eight glasses per day.
“I think there is a mixed debate versus if carbonation dehydrates us versus hydrates us,” Frazier said. “Carbonated water has other effects that I worry about like tooth decay, because the carbonation breaks down our enamel. One carbonated drink a day shouldn’t dehydrate too much. And some people like the electrolyte drinks and I’m ok with that too, but only one or two.”
Avoid overdoing it with sodium, alcohol and processed foods.
Sodium-rich and processed foods will dehydrate, Frazier said. And with each glass of alcohol, “we should try to drink a glass of water to counter the effects.”
Juice and soda are not water.
“Some juices and pop have high sugar or fructose,” Frazier said. “Even if it’s ‘100 percent natural’ juice, I tell my patients the limit of juice per day should be that small 4-ounce juice cup. I will try to negotiate with my patients and say, ‘If you have a can of pop, you have to have a full glass of water before you have your next can of pop.’ Juice is not water. Pop is not water. Coffee is not water. We are meant to drink water throughout the day to rehydrate.”
Jenniffer Weigel is director of community relations for the Sun-Times and has had a lifelong interest in wellness and related topics. She’s a frequent contributor to the Wednesday Well section.