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Neurologist: Don’t forget to water your brain

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 6/25/2018, 10:46 p.m.
Our brains and nervous system depend on adequate hydration.
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Special to The Dallas Examiner

Our brains and nervous system depend on adequate hydration.

The thermometer has been stuck above 90 for weeks and medical experts are stressing the importance of staying indoors to beat the heat. To be safe, doctors say you also need water – lots of it, because our muscles, organs and even our brains and nervous system depend on adequate hydration.

About 70 percent of the human body is composed of water. The average person in the U.S. drinks less than a quart [32 ounces] of water a day, but an adult loses more than 80 ounces of water through sweating, breathing and eliminating wastes. Our bodies use water for a multitude of functions, including regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, protecting organs, carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells, dissolving minerals and nutrients and flushing out waste.

In addition, neurologists say when you’re adequately hydrated, your brain is more focused, you can think faster and your memory and creativity are sharper.

“The brain is one of the major users of energy in the body,” said Brendan Kelley, M.D., a neurologist at Parkland Health & Hospital System and an associate professor of neurology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “There’s a lot of metabolic activity going on in the brain and water is really critical to making sure those biochemical reactions are taking place appropriately and are regulated.”

Dehydration is a known factor in dementia and a problem seen in the elderly who may tend to be chronically dehydrated, according to Kelley.

“Several studies have found even mild levels of dehydration are associated with increased difficulty with our mental functions – some loss of mental clarity and difficulties with concentration. Some people may even manifest changes like feeling more down or depressed or having a quicker temper. We also recognize in many of our neurology patients that dehydration can be associated with an increased risk of having a migraine,” he said.

That’s because when dehydrated, your brain shrinks in volume. This shrinking is what causes a dehydration headache.

When it’s really hot outside, our bodies – and brains – are at higher risk of heat-related illness. People who become dehydrated during extreme heat or strenuous exercise, like marathon runners or construction workers, can become confused or disoriented. Mild dehydration can easily be treated but if it reaches extreme levels, it can be a life-threatening condition. Delirium and unconsciousness are two signs of acute and severe dehydration that need immediate medical attention.

How much water do we need every day?

“A rough estimate would be about 80 ounces,” Kelley said. “That can be included in water or other liquids that we might drink. The food that we eat also contains some water. But 80 ounces is roughly the hole we dig each day that we need to fill. And when it’s extremely hot, we become dehydrated more quickly, so frequent water breaks are important.”

Keep in mind that tea or coffee can work as a weak diuretic, so while they replace some fluids in our body, they are not as effective at replacing our hydration as water. Soda and juice may include other components like chemical additives or sugar and are not ideal as the primary source of fluid intake.

Even mild or temporary dehydration can alter your brain function and impact your mood, so drinking enough water daily is vital. But, it’s only one step to keeping your brain happy and healthy.

“Our overall lifestyle choices are equally important. Physical fitness, diet and mental stimulation all contribute to good brain health,” Kelley said. “The best evidence to date is emerging to identify not a single lifestyle choice that we make, but a pattern of lifestyle choices that is associated with retaining our brain health. Certainly good hydration is important, along with eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical exercise and mentally stimulating ourselves regularly. These are all important to maintaining good cognitive health.”

So while you’re out watering the plants this summer, enjoy a nice tall glass of cold water. Your brain will thank you for it.