Hydration is crucial for maintaining optimal health, but for people with dysautonomia it can be far trickier than simply making sure you have had your 8 glasses of water for the day. Finding the proper balance of hydration and water retention is important to keep blood pressure within normal ranges. Many dysautonomia patients incorporate sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade into their daily diets to help with hydration and provide the body with sodium, which promotes water retention. The science behind drinking these beverages is easy to understand, and it is important to know that there are other options in your local supermarket to keep you functioning at your best.
Osmolarity is the term used to describe the hydration status of the blood plasma. You may have heard the term milliosmole/L in conversation with your doctor. It is simply the unit of measurement used to quantify osmolarity. For example, a healthy, hydrated individual should expect to have an osmolarity of around 300mOsm/L. When hydrating, it is important to choose a beverage that matches the osmolarity of the blood because it will be absorbed quicker than water would be. It is also a basic principle that water follows sodium throughout the body. When the sodium in sports beverages is absorbed into the blood stream, water is right alongside it.
Now that you have a better understanding of the concepts behind hydration, let’s explore some equally hydrating options to traditional sports drinks. The amount of sugar present in Gatorade can cause unwanted weight gain and inflammation if large amounts are consumed each day. There are low calorie options on the market but those contain artificial sweeteners, which come with their own side effects. Coconut water can be a great substitute for those looking to cut back on the calories and sugar in sports drinks. Did you know that it was used as IV therapy during WWII when normal saline solution was in short supply? Most grocery stores carry a plethora of brands so be sure to look for one that contains no added sugars. Coconut water has a refreshingly nutty taste and contains more potassium, less sugar, and less calories than sports drinks. It does contain lower amounts of sodium so for those requiring extra salt, just sprinkle some in yourself! If you don’t like the flavor of coconut water you can customize it by adding some fruit juice to it, the no sugar added kind of course. Another option would be using it in smoothies rather than water. The fruits and vegetables will mask the taste but you will still be reaping all of the benefits.
Regular water can also be spruced up to help keep you hydrated in a more flavorful way. Take your favorite fruit and put it in the freezer to make “fruit cubes.” Put some of them in your glass of water to chill your drink and infuse it with flavor. Don’t be afraid to eat them when you empty the glass, it will help you get in some extra servings of fruit for the day. If you are feeling even more adventurous, try adding some salt to the rim of your glass and make a mocktail margarita to increase your salt consumption at the same time!
If you absolutely love the taste of Gatorade, give this recipe for a homemade version a try. You may find it even helps to save some pennies by making it at home!
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup lime juice
2 cups water or coconut water (add more or less for desired flavor)
1/8 teaspoon salt (add more if desired)
2 tablespoons natural sugar or honey to taste (optional for sweetness)
Add all ingredients together and stir by hand or mix with a blender. Enjoy!
The great thing about making this from scratch is how flexible the recipe is. Swap out the lemon and lime for any flavor that you would like and more or less water can be added to get the strength of flavor that you prefer.
For those people for whom oral hydration doesn’t always suffice, intravenous hydration is available in many settings. We have a room dedicated to IV saline infusions in our practice. Other sites include local walk-in medical centers and even home infusions done by RNs or patients themselves. The fluid most commonly used is NS (Normal Saline) which is .9% NaCl or sodium chloride. We will do another post on IV therapy for dysautonomia and related disorders in the near future.
This article is not intended to discourage the use of popular sports drinks. It is always advised to do what works best for your body and symptoms. I encourage you to give some of these other options a try, you never know what you may like! Make sure to let us know if you tried any of these suggestions in the comments below, we would love to hear about it!