Hydration and You. It is Important!

Hydration is important for good health and we need to be able to recognize and treat dehydration before it becomes severe. We, as cancer patients, are particularly vulnerable to dehydration, both from the disease and the treatments we receive. It is important for us to pay close attention to whether or not we are staying properly hydrated, even when we don't feel like drinking water.

Learning about hydration the hard way

When I was getting chemo, I could not make myself drink water. The thought made my stomach turn and churn. So, I didn't drink. And, I paid the price. Dehydration led to the severest constipation I have ever suffered. I was as miserable with constipation as I was from the actual side effects from chemo. I learned that I was going to have to get fluids into my body whether I thought I could or not.

Proper hydration is crucial because fluids (1) transport our nutrients and oxygen, (2) control our heart rates and blood pressure, (3) regulate our body temperature, (4) lubricate our joints, (5) protect our organs and tissues, including our eyes, ears, and heart, (6) create saliva, (7) particularly important for those of us getting chemotherapy, remove waste and toxins.

So, what are the symptoms of dehydration?

Of course, thirst is one sign that we need to get something to drink. But, surprisingly, we can be dehydrated, but not feel thirsty. Other signs that we need to drink more are a dry or sticky mouth, a swollen tongue, fatigue or weakness, or irritability. A headache or dizziness could mean we need more to drink. Dry skin and urine that looks a lot like apple juice are also signals that we need to increase our fluid intake.

We can perform a quick test for dehydration. All we have to do is lightly pinch and pull up the skin on the back of our hand. If it stays standing up in a tent, then we need to get more fluids!

How much you drink is important

We should get a minimum of eight glasses (8 ounces each) of fluid a day. Keep in mind that if we're throwing up or suffering from a fever, even more fluid will be required.

If plain water isn't that enticing, try flavoring it with a lemon, orange, or lime slice. I love to add cucumber to my water. I slice it, put it in the freezer, and then grab some out each morning when I make my water bottle. A rosemary sprig added to a glass of water is also refreshing. It is all personal taste, but the point is that we can easily add a little flavor without using sugar.

Which is more hydrating, ice water or room temperature water? I know which one I like better -- ice water. Well, I was gratified to learn that ice water is also more hydrating than room-temperature water. It has to do with how the molecules in cold water pack tighter than those in warmer water so we get more hydration when we drink. Who knew?

I love to drink coffee...and lots of it. Unfortunately, drinks with sugar or caffeine (some juices, sodas, coffee, tea) are not hydrating our bodies as much as we may think they are. In fact, they are actually contributing to our fluid loss. Switching to low-sugar or decaffeinated drinks will be more hydrating.

Water is not the only hydration option around

If water just won't work, unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices, soups and broths, or sucking on ice cubes may be more palatable. I was thrilled to see that eating ice cream, popsicles, milkshakes, fruit ice, and/or sorbets also contribute to our fluid intake.

Keep in mind that our fluid intake doesn't have to be solely from liquids. Some foods are particularly high in water content and they count toward our hydration goals, too. Lettuce, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, watermelon, bell peppers, onions, strawberries, and cabbage are some foods that are at least 90% water.

So, c'mon! Let's get hydrating!

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