Who Needs Extra Water and Electrolytes?
Sodium, potassium, and chloride are electrolyte nutrients found in so many foods that a dietary deficiency is a rarity. Most Americans have sufficient amounts, but sometimes you actually need extra water and electrolytes. The Adequate Intake (AI) for sodium, potassium, and chloride are averages for a healthy adult age 19–50 weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds):
Sodium: 1,500 milligrams
Potassium: 4,700 milligrams
Chloride: 2,300 milligrams
Deprived of water and electrolytes, your muscles cramp, you get dizzy and weak, and perspiration no longer cools you. Your core body temperature begins rising, and you may progress from heat cramps to heat exhaustion to heat stroke. The latter is potentially fatal.
You may need to increase your intake of water and electrolytes if:
You’re sick to your stomach: Repeated vomiting or diarrhea drains your body of water and electrolytes. Similarly, you also need extra water to replace the liquid lost in perspiration when you have a high fever.
When you lose enough water to be dangerously dehydrated, you also lose the electrolytes you need to maintain fluid balance, regulate body temperature, and trigger dozens of biochemical reactions. Plain water doesn’t replace those electrolytes.
You’re exercising or working hard in a hot environment: When your body perspires, moisture evaporates and cools your skin. If you don’t cool your body down, you continue losing water. If you don’t replace the lost water, you are you losing water and electrolytes.
You’re on a high-protein diet: You need extra water to eliminate the nitrogen compounds in protein. This is true of infants on high-protein formulas and adults on high-protein weight-reducing diets.
You’re taking certain medications: Because some medications interact with water and electrolytes, always ask whether you need extra water and electrolytes whenever your doctor prescribes
Diuretics: They increase the loss of sodium, potassium, and chloride.
Neomycin (an antibiotic): It binds sodium into insoluble compounds, making it less available to your body.
Colchicine (an anti-gout drug): It lowers your absorption of sodium.
You have high blood pressure: People taking daily supplements of 2,500 mg (2.5 grams) of potassium are likely to have blood pressure several points lower than people not taking the supplements. Ask your doctor about this one, and remember: Food is also a good source of potassium. One whole banana has up to 470 milligrams of potassium, one cup of dates — 1,160 milligrams, and one cup of raisins — 1,239 milligrams.
Serious dehydration calls for serious medicine, such as the World Health Organization’s handy-dandy, two-tumbler electrolyte replacement formula:
In one glass mix, 8 ounces orange juice, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon sweetener (honey, corn syrup). In a second glass mix 8 ounces boiled or bottled or distilled water, with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.
Take a sip from one glass, then the other, and continue until finished.
If diarrhea continues, contact your doctor.