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Survival Doctor: Dehydration can sneak up on you

By: James Hubbard Special to The Gazette
July 15, 2014 Updated: July 15, 2014 at 8:00 am
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photo - FC Barcelona's Gerard Pique drinks water,  during a training session,  in San Joan Despi, Spain, Friday, May 16, 2014. Barcelona faces Spanish leader Atletico Madrid in a winner-takes-all league finale on Saturday, when the defending champion could yet lift its fifth title in six seasons. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
FC Barcelona's Gerard Pique drinks water, during a training session, in San Joan Despi, Spain, Friday, May 16, 2014. Barcelona faces Spanish leader Atletico Madrid in a winner-takes-all league finale on Saturday, when the defending champion could yet lift its fifth title in six seasons. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) 

In this part of the country, we can get dehydrated pretty fast - especially this time of the year. And it can happen without us even realizing it.

Dehydration affects the entire body. It makes you less energetic and less alert, and it reduces the body's ability to cool down efficiently. Core body temperature can heat up so much that organs don't work as well.

In more humid climates, people know when their body is losing a lot of water. They go outside for a minute or two and they're already dripping in sweat. This makes the need to stay hydrated obvious.

But in dry climates, like here, the sweat can evaporate so quickly that you don't notice it. Your skin doesn't even have time to get moist. The dehydration sneaks up on you. So it's important to remind yourself to drink. How much? Well, it depends on who you are and what you're doing.

Your necessary fluid intake depends on your size, the temperature and your level of activity. Although the blanket recommendation of eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day is out of favor, it's still a good starting point.

Some smaller people may need to drink a little less. So might people who sit in air conditioning all day or eat a lot of water-containing fruits and vegetables.

But for people working or playing out in the heat, two to four glasses per hour is more like it.

So, how do you drink this much without getting sick of it? Here are some tips:

- Most people better tolerate drinking a lot of fluids by drinking a glass every 15 or 30 minutes rather than drinking a lot in one gulp.

- Drinking half a glass or so before you go outside keeps you a little ahead of dehydration so you don't have to play catch-up.

- If you get tired of plain water, you could spruce it up with a lemon or maybe some carbonated water.

- We used to recommend avoiding caffeine. But the current opinion is that tea and coffee don't dehydrate you. In fact, they can count toward your total fluid intake. Just limit your caffeinated beverages to a cup or two a day or you might get jittery. Also limit sodas, as they're just not healthy.

With sweating, you lose sodium, which is an essential electrolyte that keeps your heart, brain, muscles and more in good working order. That's why sports drinks include sodium. But most of us get more than enough salt in our diets.

If you're going to be working hard for an hour or more, you might want to add ? teaspoon of salt to a glass or two of the water, but no more. A sports drink is OK for most of us, but unless you're going to be out for hours, you should limit it to one per day due to the high salt and sugar content. Coconut water has less of both, and many people are switching to that.

If you want an objective measure for whether you're getting dehydrated, keep up with your urine color. If it starts getting noticeably darker, that's a sign you need to drink more fluids.

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Hubbard is a family doctor who teaches how to survive during disasters or any time you can't get expert medical help. For more information, go to his website, TheSurvivalDoctor.com.

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