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Dehydration Can Be Deadly, Warns LSU AgCenter Nutritionist

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 300 people die each year from heat-related illness. Drinking enough fluids is important during our hot summer weather – especially for senior citizens - according to LSU Agricultural Center nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.

Hot weather can lead to body water loss, dehydration and heat stroke. "Even small losses of body water can impair activity and judgment," Reames says, explaining that mild dehydration may be seen with a loss of 1 percent to 2 percent of body weight or a loss of 1.5 to 2 pounds for a person weighing 150 pounds.

"Studies show senior citizens often don’t drink enough fluids," the Ag Center nutritionist says, adding, "Complicating matters, they also may be taking medications, such as diuretics for high blood pressure, which cause fluid loss."

One study of healthy retirees found 8 percent with moderate dehydration and about 33 percent likely to have chronic mild dehydration, according to Reames.

For a person to be well-hydrated, the Food and Nutrition Board recently set general fluid recommendations. The recommendations are based on thirst as the alert that we are getting dehydrated. According to the report, thirst, together with typical fluid and food consumption behavior, is an effective mechanism to prevent dehydration. The report also stated that it is extremely unusual for healthy individuals with ready access to food and fluids to become chronically dehydrated.

Although most people can meet fluid needs by drinking when thirsty and regularly consuming beverages at meals, prolonged physical activity and heat exposure will increase water losses and therefore may raise daily fluid needs. In very hot weather, very active individuals often have daily total water needs of six liters or more, according to several studies.

In addition to physical activity and environmental conditions, diet, disease and health conditions and use of diuretics and other medications can affect water needs.

"It’s also important to remember that water needs vary from day to day," the nutritionist points out.

According to national survey data, women consume an average of 2.7 liters (91 ounces) and men approximately 3.7 liters (125 ounces daily) of total water - from all beverages and foods - each day.

Both beverages and food supply water. About 80 percent of people's total water intake comes from drinking water and beverages - including caffeinated beverages - and the other 20 percent is derived from food. Solid foods may contribute about 4-5 cups of water each day. Many fruits and vegetables are 90 percent fluid.

According to the report, drinking caffeinated beverages doesn’t lead to total body water deficits. These beverages can be consumed to help meet hydration needs along with other beverages and food.

The nutritionist offers these additional tips:

• Water is a great fluid replacer. Drink cool water because it’s absorbed faster and you’ll usually drink more of it because it tastes better.

• Water can come from all kinds of beverages and foods, including juice, milk, soup, tea, coffee and soft drinks. Plain water is great, too. Remember that juice, milk and soup offer other nutrients as well.

• Try drinking fruit juice diluted with plain water or sparkling water for a refreshing lift.

• Some beverages, especially those containing alcohol, may lead to loss of body water.

For information on related family and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.
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