Blood is thicker than water, so the old saying goes. And, as it turns out according to the latest research, blood is thicker without water.
In new research published in the European Heart Journal, the authors state that staying hydrated may help slow the decline of cardiac function and, ultimately, assist in the prevention of heart failure.
Heart failure continues to be a major public health problem, especially in industrialised countries with ageing populations and, in the US alone it is a leading cause of hospitalisations, readmissions and outpatient visits at a cost of over $39 billion annually.
Prevention, therefore, will benefit not only individuals but reduce stress on health systems already under strain. And simply increasing your fluid intake could be a game changer in this area.
That fluid needs to be of the healthy variety, of course – basically, water. The way it helps you is really quite simple. Without sufficient hydration, elevated levels of sodium lead to a thickening of the blood.
This in turn forces your heart to pump faster to ensure blood flow through the body, which in turn raises your blood pressure. And that is not good.
Dr Natalia Dmitrieva, a researcher in the NIH’s Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine and one of the lead authors of the study, said: “Similar to reducing salt intake, drinking enough water and staying hydrated are ways to support our hearts and may help reduce long-term risks for heart disease.”
It should be pointed out that increasing your healthy fluid intake is not an invitation to up the amount of salt you ingest each day. The Heart Foundation recommends a maximum of 5g of salt (2000mg sodium) – about a teaspoon – and Australians are already well beyond that mark, averaging 9g per day.
As a general rule, healthy men need about 10 cups (2.6 litres) of fluids every day and healthy women need about eight cups (two litres).
While staying well hydrated is one of the lynchpins of maintaining heart health, for those who have been diagnosed with a heart condition, the advice comes with a warning. Almost counterintuitively, for those with heart disease, drinking too much water can cause further problems.
The University of Maryland Medical System suggests that “when your heart failure is not very bad, your healthcare provider may not place you on a fluid restriction. As your heart failure becomes worse, your healthcare provider may limit your fluids to six to nine cups (1.5 to two litres) a day.
For those diagnosed with a heart condition, consultation with your healthcare provider is important when monitoring hydration levels.
But for those whose heart health is good, maintaining hydration levels will go a long way to ensuring health is maintained. While water tops the list of ‘healthy’ fluids, milk (especially skim milk), soup and broth are other ways of keeping up fluid levels. Sports drinks are not usually recommended as they contain sodium and added sugar.
Symptoms of dehydration – which is not the same as simply feeling thirsty – include fatigue, muscle weakness, dark urine, headache, dizziness, dry mouth or skin, a rapid heart rate, and urinating less frequently or in low volume.
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