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Over-Hydration Can Be as Harmful as Dehydration

By Ed Nguyen, M.D., Attending Physician at 75th St. & 126th St. Medical, Ocean Pines Medical & Doctors Weight Control & Wellness centers, Ocean City, MD.

Even as the summer months begin to wind down, the weather can stay quite hot, so drinking plenty of fluids generally remains a good idea. This is, after all, a very reasonable way to prevent dehydration. However, many people are not aware that becoming over-hydrated can cause as many detrimental effects on the human body as becoming dehydrated.

Over-hydration is a decidedly uncommon condition, and we hardly ever encounter it in normal and otherwise healthy individuals. Instead, over-hydration more commonly occurs in athletes who are over-zealous about re-hydrating themselves with water during extended periods of physical activity.

The danger of over-hydration lies in the dilution or depletion of bodily electrolytes. Sweating tends to slowly deplete the body of its electrolytes, and ingesting excessive amounts of pure water only exacerbates this situation. One condition which may arise as a result of excessive water intake is hyponatremia, or low blood sodium levels. If severe enough, the symptoms of hyponatremia may include disorientation, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. In rare cases, hyponatremia may even induce convulsions, coma, or possibly death.

Fortunately, you needn't forego your regular morning workouts or jogs. These activities are quite safe, as you will almost assuredly never consume enough water during these short periods to cause any health problems. However, if you are planning an extensive period of exercise, such as running in a long-distance race, there are some useful suggestions to keep in mind to remain well-hydrated but not overly so.

The best prevention against over-hydration is adequate sodium replacement. As a standard step in all prolonged exercise or training, try to replenish the equivalence of one gram of sodium per hour. Estimate the rate at which you consume water and the rate at which you sweat, and balance your ingestion of fluids accordingly. It is better to drink small portions over a protracted period of time than to ingest a huge amount in a short period of time. As a helpful tip, keep in mind that the average amount of daily fluids an average adult requires is roughly equivalent to the amount of fluid contained in a 2-liter soda bottle. Sports drinks or even vegetable-based beverages, in addition to providing replacement fluids, are excellent sources of sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes, too. For snacks, try to have some salty condiments, such as pretzels or potato chips, available. Energy bars or candy bars are acceptable options as well.

Keeping well-hydrated during the hot summer months is a good idea. But, do not take measures to an extreme, and you should be just fine. Enjoy the beach!

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