Hydration: It's Not Just A Millennial Thing
Hey, I'm Christine Thuy Huong! I'm a Vietnamese Pop Singer turned Doctor of Nursing Practice and the creator of B.A.M.F. - a Women’s Wellness platform aimed to eradicate every form of lifestyle that does not support the beauty, authenticity, self-made, and fierce power of a true woman. Currently, I'm a lecturer at Cal State Fullerton for the School of Nursing and an Emergency Dept. nurse for Kaiser Permanente.
Singer to Nurse Practitioner... I bet you're wondering how I jumped from entertainment to medicine. At 28 years old, I was curious and wanted a transition into making a greater impact than a standing ovation on a stage as a singer -- I wanted to see more than a smile in the audience. Becoming a nurse gave me the impact and relationship I wanted with people of all ages. I learned how to fine-tune my assessment skills, anticipate diagnostics, and facilitate my patients' plan of care. Being in the Emergency Department, I have the opportunity to save lives and support those who, unfortunately, face loss in their life. Now that I'm an expert in Advanced Practice Nursing, I love teaching as a Professor to the next generation of nurses. My hope is to make them strong, empathetic, and loving towards their patients.
A personal point of interest for me is aging and how that goes hand-in-hand with preventative health. I'm approaching 40, and this is a gentile reminder to myself that longevity, health, and happiness is everything. I've worked with a lot of elderly patients over the years as a DNP and have noticed a big gap in their overall nutrition when it comes to hydration. Here's why hydration is still so important, even well into your 70's and 80's...
What if I told you aging doesn't have to result in what society deems as the 'inevitable' decline of body and mind? There are a lot of things we can do to ensure we age with grace, maintaining a healthy body that is dis-ease free as well as a sharp mind. One of those things is the consumption of fluids - seems too simple right? - but in fact, hydration has been shown to spur longevity. Here's why:
Our body wants to be healthy. It employs various mechanisms and a complex system of checks and balances to ensure we are in a constant state of equilibrium. This process is called homeostasis. More specifically, homeostasis is the control of all body systems, which requires the balance of fluids and electrolytes. Regardless, 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated, which is a shocking statistic when we consider the importance of hydration in our day to day bodily functions.
For the average American, as we age our list of medications grows, cognition becomes a challenge, and doctor visits are more frequent. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060. Our health as a country has never been more important before. (United States Census Bureau, 2018).
Why is this Significant?
As our population continues to grow (and age), the crushing economic pressure of our dis-ease as a nation is...well, apparent. According to a study conducted by RTI International for the American Heart Association, by 2035 the number of Americans with cardiovascular disease will rise to 131.2 million -- 45 percent of the total U.S. population -- with costs expected to reach $1.1 trillion.
Investing in preventative health is not only a wise economic move, it is necessary for generations to come. While healthy hydration is not the end-all be-all answer in this case, it is one of many preventative foundational measures we can take to bring our bodies back to homeostasis.
Hydration: the Facts
Now, let's talk about homeostasis. Homeostasis ensures our body maintains its internal temperature as well as energy, weight, hunger, and thirst at fairly constant and stable levels. Think of it like your house thermostat.
Like I mentioned above, electrolytes play a key role in maintaining homeostasis. They help regulate myocardial and neurological function, fluid balance, oxygen delivery, acid-base balance, and other biological processes. They are what cells use to maintain voltages and carry electrical impulses across themselves and to other cells. Electrolyte imbalances can be very dangerous, especially when combined with dehydration. The most common form of dehydration is isotonic dehydration, which is, in fact, the equal loss of water and electrolytes. To treat dehydration, both water and electrolytes need to be replenished.
Keeping homeostasis and its key role in all body systems in mind, several studies have found that a loss of 1-2% of total body water in the elderly is highly associated with impaired cognitive performance, due to dehydration (Sfera, Cummings, & Osorio, 2016). It's hard enough for all of us to remember to take in enough fluids, but it's especially hard for older adults. As we age, we lose our thirst sensation, which can often be attributed to certain medications that cause fluid loss, such as a diuretic. This means that it will become harder and harder for our bodies to tell us its thirsty. Some warning signs of dehydration include:
- Low blood pressure
- Urine that's dark in color
To prevent dehydration, Dr. Julian Seifter of Harvard Medical School recommends that we prioritize getting our recommended amount of water intake every day, depending on our individual needs. However, we can't take in a whole day's worth of water at once. Our kidneys lose their ability to eliminate water as we age, so it's important to stay hydrated gradually and throughout the day. It's actually possible to become hyperhydrated. It's recommended that you check with your doctor to discuss your hydration needs-- there's no "one size fits all" number.
There are three basic essentials you need to ensure you have safe & smooth results when maintaining good hydration:
- Dehydration is a common cause of illness and death in the elderly.
- Thirst sensation decreases with age.
- Electrolyte imbalance can occur in both healthy and unhealthy people as a result of poor intake and output of fluids.
- Consideration of multiple chronic diseases, such as Chronic Kidney Disease and Heart Failure, in relation to fluid restrictions should be discussed with a healthcare provider.
- One liter of water is roughly a 2-pound weight change.
- Friends, family, and caregivers can help support and remind older adults to stay hydrated.
- Frequent encouragement and variety in beverages are helpful.
- Begin to implement drinking water as a daily practice.
Longevity & Results
- Restoration of water loss and replacement of electrolytes helps with healing and homeostasis.
- The goal is to not be part of the 6.7% older adults hospitalized for dehydration (Sfera, Cummings, & Osorio, 2016).
While dehydration is important in all stages of life, it's essential when combating common illnesses and signs of aging. When made habitual, drinking water is a no-brainer that offers tremendous health benefits and longevity.