Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Av 5761 - August 8, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family

by R' Zvi Zobin

"How much water did you drink today?" Did you know that minimal dehydration can cause obesity, high blood pressure etc.?

We usually relate the word `dehydration' to stories about people dying of thirst when lost in the desert. Actually, the term refers to a whole range of water insufficiency, which can all, with varying degrees, seriously affect our health and ability to work and learn. Even during cold weather, a person can become seriously dehydrated and even mild dehydration can seriously reduce a person's intellectual abilities.

The body uses water for many purposes. Nearly all the neurological and chemical processes of the body use water. Blood and hormones are composed of high percentages of water. Water is one of the most important mediums for digestion.

Water is lost from the body through breathing, sweating and the dual processes of elimination. With the water, the body loses important salts which are vital to many important functions of the body. So there are two aspects to dehydration: loss of water and loss of salts.

Through normal breathing, a person loses between one and two liters of water per day. Under certain conditions of temperature and humidity, this loss can increase to about one cup per hour (six liters per day).

The main purpose of perspiration is to prevent the body from overheating. Sweat glands secrete a mixture of water, salt and urea. The water evaporates, cooling off the skin. Usually, the body loses only about one or two liters of fluid through urination. Urination is important for removing waste products and excess water from the body.

Though a lot of water is used in the process of digestion, most water is removed in the colon and the body only loses about 100 cc. through defecation. However, a person suffering from diarrhea can lose as much as 25 liters of water a day.

The most dangerous consequence of dehydration can lead to heat stroke. A person suffering from heat stroke is producing heat faster than he can lose it through perspiration. As a result, body temperature rises, which can eventually lead to brain damage and death. Due to overheating of the brain, the person can become disoriented, hallucinate, act illogically and become argumentative. The victim will not necessarily feel thirsty.

If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke, it is essential to get him/her to the hospital as soon as possible. Because of their inability to think logically, the victims may refuse to drink and they will need infusions of water. Meanwhile, they should be cooled off, putting priority on cooling the head and neck. You can cool the sufferers with ice packs and by removing non-cotton clothing and wetting their body, also fanning them and massaging their limbs to get the cooled blood to the main part of the body.

Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke but can be very uncomfortable. It can come several hours after exertion and dehydration and is caused by loss of water and salts. Symptoms include fatigue, exhaustion, nausea, lightheadedness and possibly cramps. The sufferer needs to replace water and salts so he should add a teaspoon of salt to a liter of water (preferably cold) and sip it slowly.

Of course, these are only brief emergency notes on how to tend to these conditions and a local expert should be consulted for more complete instructions.

Prevention is better than cure. Especially if the weather is hot and humid, try to keep out of the heat and wear protective, loose cotton clothing and head covering. Clothing should be loose enough to allow air to circulate so that the sweat can evaporate freely. Do not rely on feeling thirsty, but drink a lot of water even if you feel you do not need to drink. Also, eat some salty food or add salt to the water. Do not over- exert yourself and take a rest and a drink if you feel yourself becoming exhausted.

However, even during a normal day, ensure that you and the children drink enough water. Tea, coffee, chocolate, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks and fruits such as watermelon all increase urination so they can all increase dehydration. Mild dehydration can cause headaches, a feeling of tiredness and lack of mental alertness. These symptoms can be similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Some doctors claim that continual minimal dehydration can cause cardiovascular and renal problems, obesity and high blood pressure.

People tend to drink less as they get older, yet dehydration in the elderly can lead to reduced mental functioning, reduced resistance to infectious disease, kidney stones and constipation.

The World Health Organization recommends that an adult drink about eight large glasses of water every day. Though children are smaller, they run around more than adults and they, too, need to drink sufficient water every day. So if your child complains that he feels unusually tired, has a headache, or his teacher complains that he seems to be listless and inattentive, the first question should be, "How much water did you drink today?"


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