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Don't Hang Your Heart Out To Dry

Water Is the Magic Elixir of Life

Water-it sustains life and keeps your heart healthy. So why don't we drink enough of it?

Here are some facts about dehydration to inspire you to drink up.

What's the Big Deal with Water?

Water is a vital part of the body - in fact, about 75 percent of the body's weight is made up of good old H2O. We lose water throughout the day by breathing out humidified air, perspiring and eliminating waste. Drinking beverages with caffeine, which is a diuretic, speeds up water loss.

As the body begins to experience dehydration, thirst is usually not the first symptom. You may experience fatigue, headaches, dry mouth, dizziness or urine that is deep yellow.

Dehydration also affects the cardiovascular system. When the body lacks enough water, low blood pressure can result. The heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body and force blood through constricted veins.

Severe dehydration can trigger irregular heart rhythms, especially in people with an underlying heart condition. Long-term dehydration increases the chance of heart complications later in life.

How Much Water Should I Drink Daily?

The recommended amount of fluid to drink each day is about eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid, preferably water. "Eight glasses of fluid is a good baseline, but remember that these beverages should be caffeine-free for the greatest benefit," according to HeartMail's Nutrition Expert Liz Moore, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's CardioVascular Institute.

Liz Moore, RD, LDN"Water is truly the best beverage for you-whether it's sparkling, flavored without sugar, or plain-but decaf tea and non-fat milk are good second choices. If you do have a caffeinated drink, follow it with an extra cup of water to counterbalance the diuretic effect." Electrolyte-filled sports drinks are usually not necessary, said Liz, who feels they are most effective when used by professional athletes, people working out in hot climates for two or more hours or for those who are ill with diarrhea.

It's important to note, however, that hydration is a complex issue for patients with congestive heart failure (CHF). Patients diagnosed with CHF have weakened hearts that do not pump enough blood to meet the body's needs and, as a result, the lungs and the body begin to retain large amounts of fluid. CHF patients should consult with their physicians about limits for the amount of fluid that they consume daily to help keep fluids in the body at an optimal level.

Tips for Increasing Water Intake

If drinking water is a challenge for you, here are some tips from Liz to help you boost the amount you take in each day.

  • Schedule your water intake, starting with a glass of water first thing in the morning. Have a drink at midmorning and late afternoon, and drink a tall glass of water with each meal.
  • Keep a water bottle handy throughout the day to make it more accessible.
  • Relax at the end of the day with several cups of herbal tea.
  • Flavor your water with a twist of lemon or lime. You can also add mint leaves or herbal tea to a pitcher of water, and let it sit overnight.
  • Eat foods that are rich in water, like melon, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, mushrooms and pumpkin.
  • Have soup with your meals several times a week.

"Staying hydrated doesn't have to be a torturous process, even for people who hate water," said Liz. "It's all about preparing beverages that you enjoy and keeping them handy through the day."

With that advice in hand, there's no time like the present to raise a glass and take a sip. Here's to hydration!

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted April 2011

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215