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Drink Up: How Hydration Keeps You Healthy

Our primary care doctors in Delray Beach told you a few weeks ago how important hydration is to maintaining your health.

It’s especially valuable for seniors because adults over the age of 60 are at higher risk of dehydration; thirst levels tend to drop with age, especially in winter.

Now a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) study published this month in the journal eBioMedicine suggests that drinking enough water is associated with:

  • significantly lower risk of developing chronic diseases
  • lower risk of being biologically older than your chronological age
  • and a lower risk of dying early

“The results suggest that proper hydration may slow down aging and prolong a disease-free life,” study author Natalia Dmitrieva, a researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a division of NIH.

The Study

Using health data gathered from 11,255 adults over a 25-year period, researchers analyzed average blood serum sodium levels, which go up when fluid intake goes down, indicating lower hydration.

They then compared serum sodium levels with various indicators of health. They found that those with serum sodium levels at the higher end of a normal range were more likely to develop chronic conditions and show signs of advanced biological aging than those with serum sodium levels in the medium range.

Adults with higher levels were also more likely to die at a younger age.

This study seemed to confirm the results of the March 2022 study by the same researchers, which found links between higher serum sodium levels and increased risks for heart failure.

Both studies were part of a long-term study known as the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study.

Pushback

“This study adds observational evidence that reinforces the potential long-term benefits of improved hydration on reductions in long-term health outcomes, including mortality,” Dr. Howard Sesso, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard medical School and associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told CNN.

“It would have been nice to combine their definition of hydration, based on serum sodium levels only, with actual fluid intake data from the ARIC cohort,” added Sesso, who was not involved in the study.

Others were less positive. In recent years, there has been some controversy surrounding the standard advice from the National Academies of Medicine that women should drink six to nine eight-ounce glasses of water daily while men should drink eight to 12 glasses. Some experts say this isn’t necessary, because people have different hydration needs based on their activity levels and their environment.

“Dehydration in the general population is just not a common issue,” Lawrence Appel, the director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins University, told NBC News.

He explained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the average U.S. adult drinks more than five cups of water a day, in addition to receiving hydration from vegetables and fruits with a high water content, such as watermelon, celery, and cucumbers.

Dehydration’s Consequences

Controversy aside, regular failure to ingest enough fluids can lead to serious problems, including:

  • headaches
  • dizziness and falls
  • muscle cramps
  • impaired memory and concentration
  • constipation
  • urinary tract infections
  • kidney stones
  • kidney failure
  • delirium

In extreme cases, dehydration can trigger heat exhaustion, heatstroke, seizures, and even low-blood volume shock. All these things are potentially life-threatening.

Illnesses such as uncontrolled diabetes or kidney disease increase the risk, as can certain medications such as diuretics and some blood pressure drugs, which increase urination.

Benefits of Hydration

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports that drinking enough water each day helps:

  • regulate body temperature
  • keep joints lubricated
  • prevent infections
  • deliver nutrients to cells
  • keep organs functioning properly
  • improve sleep quality
  • improve cognition
  • improve mood

And the National Council on Aging (NCOA) points out that adequate hydration:

  • improves brain performance
  • improves heart function
  • aids in digestion
  • confers more energy
  • decreases joint pain
  • reduces the risk of kidney stones
  • helps waste and toxin removal

NCOA notes that adequate fluid intake is especially important for older adults who are at risk for both dehydration and impaired cognitive function because even mild hydration can affect mood, concentration, and reaction time.

Dehydration Risk in Seniors

After the age of 50, the average person tends to lose the ability to recognize thirst. In addition, the water content in our bodies drops from about 75 percent as children to around 50 percent when we’re middle-aged.

Dehydration is a common cause of hospitalization among older people. Oddly, though, it’s not often investigated as a cause for some frightening—and often serious—conditions.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, persistent dehydration that causes difficulty walking, confusion, rapid heart rate, or other more severe symptoms can land seniors in the hospital, but early symptoms such as dry mouth, fatigue, dizziness, and muscle cramping are often attributed to other medical conditions, medications, and even the normal effects of aging.

On the other hand, certain health conditions and medications may impact fluid levels and the need for hydration. So it’s best to check with us so we can help you develop a personalized hydration plan that meets your unique needs.

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