The prevalence of dehydration might come to us as a surprise – but the matter of fact is that 75% of the U.S. population may be chronically dehydrated (less than 2.5 cups per day). With the abundance of water fountains, or as we like to call them in Wisco, ‘bubblers’, the statistic still stands. Many individuals continue to fall short of these recommendations. How can we get back on track?

The Basics of Hydration

As most of us learned in elementary school, our bodies are composed of about 60% water, and maintaining the right balance is crucial for sustaining bodily functions. Dehydration occurs when the loss of fluids surpasses the intake, leading to an imbalance that can have adverse effects on health. 

Common contributing factors to dehydration:

  • Inadequate water intake
  • Hot or humid weather
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Physical activity
  • Excessive caffeine
  • Certain medical conditions

Certain age groups may be more susceptible to dehydration. Older adults may even have reduced thirst sensations, leading to lower water intake.

Daily recommendations for water:
(From the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine)

  • Women: 2.71 liters (91 oz)
  • Men: 3.7 liters (125 oz)

Hydrating In Combination With Electrolytes: Types And Roles

First, what are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge that play crucial roles in various physiological functions, including nerve function, muscle contractions, and fluid balance. Electrolyte deficiencies occur when there is an imbalance or inadequate levels of these essential minerals in the body. Hydration alone is good, but hydrating in combination with electrolytes is better. These key elements are essential to optimizing our daily functions.

1. Sodium (Na+): The Fluid Maestro

  • Function: Regulates fluid balance and blood pressure.
  • How it Works: Sodium helps maintain extracellular fluid volume, influencing the movement of water in and out of cells.
  • Benefits: Prevents dehydration, supports nerve function, and aids in nutrient transport.

2. Potassium (K+): The Cellular Communicator

  • Function: Facilitates nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and maintains fluid balance.
  • How it Works: Works alongside sodium to regulate water movement, crucial for proper cell function.
  • Benefits: Supports heart health, prevents muscle cramps, and aids in overall muscle function.

3. Calcium (Ca2+): The Bone Builder

  • Function: Essential for bone and teeth formation, blood clotting, and muscle function.
  • How it Works: Acts as a signaling molecule in cellular processes and contributes to muscle contraction.
  • Benefits: Promotes bone health, supports blood clotting, and aids in muscle and nerve function.

4. Magnesium (Mg2+): The Multifunctional Performer

  • Function: Involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions, including energy production and muscle function.
  • How it Works: Essential for ATP synthesis, the energy currency of cells, and contributes to muscle and nerve function.
  • Benefits: Supports energy metabolism, muscle relaxation, and overall cellular function.

5. Chloride (Cl-): The Fluid Balancer

  • Function: Maintains fluid balance, aids digestion as part of stomach acid (HCl).
  • How it Works: Works with sodium to regulate water distribution in and out of cells.
  • Benefits: Supports digestion, helps maintain blood pressure, and prevents dehydration.

6. Phosphate (HPO4^2-): The Energy Bank

  • Function: Involved in energy metabolism and forms part of DNA, RNA, and ATP.
  • How it Works: Contributes to the structure of high-energy molecules like ATP.
  • Benefits: Supports energy production, cellular structure, and overall metabolic processes.

7. Bicarbonate (HCO3-): The pH Regulator

  • Function: Maintains blood pH and acid-base balance.
  • How it Works: Acts as a buffer, neutralizing excess acids or bases in the body.
  • Benefits: Supports acid-base balance, contributes to proper cellular function, and helps prevent acidosis or alkalosis.

Incorporating a variety of foods rich in these electrolytes into your diet ensures a harmonious balance, supporting hydration, nerve function, muscle performance, and overall well-being. Keep the electrolyte symphony in tune for optimal health!

Cups, mugs, glasses in the sink.
Electrolytes are essential for optimal bodily functions. 

Defining Dehydration & Electrolyte Deficiencies

Dehydration occurs when there is an insufficient intake of fluids to meet the body's needs or when there is excessive fluid loss. This imbalance disrupts the normal functioning of the body, as water is essential for various physiological processes. Dehydration can result from factors such as inadequate fluid intake, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and certain medical conditions.

  1. Fluid Loss: Dehydration often involves a loss of water and essential electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, chloride, and others.
  2. Symptoms: Common symptoms of dehydration include increased thirst, dark yellow urine, dry mouth, dry skin, fatigue, dizziness, and, in severe cases, confusion or unconsciousness.
  3. Severity: Dehydration can range from mild to severe. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and requires prompt attention.
  4. Causes: Causes of dehydration include inadequate fluid intake, excessive heat or physical activity, illness with symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, certain medications, and conditions that increase fluid loss.
  5. Treatment: Treatment typically involves rehydration by drinking fluids or, in severe cases, intravenous fluids administered by healthcare professionals.

Hydration For Immunity

The immune system is a complex frontline defense our body relies on to keep us from getting sick. Scientific studies reveal that a well-hydrated body is better equipped to fend off infections and maintain a vigilant immune response. 

  1. Water is the foundation for immune cell function. 
  2. Dehydration can compromise the immune system's ability to function properly. 
  3. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium, among others, contribute to proper immune cell signaling in order to protect us from pathogens.

    Calder, P. C., Carr, A. C., Gombart, A. F., & Eggersdorfer, M. (2020). Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System Is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients, 12(4), 1181.
    Wintergerst, E. S., Maggini, S., & Hornig, D. H. (2007). Contribution of selected vitamins and trace elements to immune function. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 51(4), 301–323.

Hydration for Skin Appearance

The skin, our body's largest organ, is intricately linked to hydration. Scientific studies illuminate the critical role of water in supporting skin health, from maintaining elasticity to enhancing your appearance. Dehydration is often associated with the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Could adequate water intake contribute to smoother, more youthful-looking skin? Researchers say it can. 

Proper Hydration supports:

  • Skin elasticity
  • Collagen production
  • Reduce fine lines
  • Can minimize premature aging

    Cho, S., Lee, D. H., Won, C. H., Kim, S. M., Lee, S., Lee, M. J., ... & Chung, J. H. (2006). Differential effects of low-dose and high-dose beta-carotene supplementation on the signs of photoaging and type I procollagen gene expression in human skin in vivo. Dermatology, 212(Suppl. 1), 123-131.

Hydration For Athletes or Gym Goers

In the realm of fitness, hydration's importance cannot be overstated. When you exercise, your body sweats to regulate temperature, and with it, you lose essential fluids and electrolytes.

Dehydration can lead to:

  • Fatigue
  • Decreased Endurance
  • Impaired Concentration
  • Impaired Strength

Hydration is also essential for overall recovery. Post-exercise, your muscles need proper hydration combined with electrolytes which can help reduce muscle soreness. 

Casa, D. J., Armstrong, L. E., Hillman, S. K., Montain, S. J., Reiff, R. V., Rich, B. S., ... & Stone, J. A. (2000). National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement: Fluid replacement for athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 35(2), 212–224.

Cian, C., Koulmann, N., Barraud, P. A., Raphel, C., Jimenez, C., & Melin, B. (2000). Influence of variations in body hydration on cognitive function: Effect of hyperhydration, heat stress, and exercise-induced dehydration. Journal of Psychophysiology, 14(1), 29–36.

Hydration For Sustained Energy

If you're pursuing sustained energy, it's time to entertain hydrating with electrolytes. Magnesium, often overlooked, is a key player in energy metabolism. It participates in over 300 enzymatic reactions, including those responsible for ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) synthesis – the body's energy currency.

Proper hydration & electrolyte counts can:

  • Squash fatigue
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Bring mental focus & clarity

The Last Drop

As we've learned, the benefits of hydrating with electrolytes extend far beyond mere quenching of thirst. Scientifically supported, the dynamic interplay of water and electrolytes orchestrates essential functions within the body, influencing energy metabolism, cellular respiration, muscle function, and cognitive performance. 

By incorporating electrolyte-rich hydration practices into our daily routines, we unlock a holistic approach to well-being. From powering through workouts with enhanced endurance to promoting skin radiance and supporting immune resilience, electrolyte-rich hydration emerges as a key player in achieving optimal health. 

So, raise your glass to the science-backed symphony of hydration, and let it be the refreshing elixir that fuels your vitality and unleashes the full potential of your body and mind.

November 17, 2023 — Griffin Lynch

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