Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Water, the elixir of healthy living

at 8:00 PM
My parents continue to teach me. It seems you never grow out of that role of student with your parents. Lesson: good health and living a green lifestyle are closely linked.
I'm not saying that if you live a green life, eat whole and organic foods, exercise, and get lots of sleep that you'll always be healthy, but I am saying that you can hedge your bets with a few simple routines, and live a healthier life than if you ignore these routines.
Have you ever stopped to consider how infections and dehydration are related? Or how they impact your life, health, and sense of well-being? This is an invitation to stop and consider it. The lesson my parents just gave me was about the dangers of dehydration and infections, especially under-treated infections, and in seniors.
My Bigger Half and I went to visit Rock and no-nonsense, and help host a family celebration. Upon arrival we learned no-nonsense was suffering with vertigo, and a UTI (urinary tract infection). Because moving about was disorienting for no-nonsense she wasn't drinking much water (think about the ramifications of both drinking the water, and the after effects makes you nauseous if moving). No amount of urging her to drink water made a change in her behavior. Not even her doctor could sway her determination to not drink much water!
Ok, fine, "she" gets "to live her life her way, a hard lesson for this daughter to accept when she used to be the epitome of healthy habits. I even heard Rock mumble something under his breath about leading a horse to water, so I know I'm not the only one experiencing a bit of frustration here.
The second night of our visit Rock found no-nonsense struggling unsuccessfully to get into bed, so he called me up to help. That's when we found her disoriented and not acting like herself. I changed from my daughter hat to my EMT hat and started asking her questions while waiting for My Bigger Half to bring the stethoscope and BP cuff up. Low blood pressure spurred Rock to call his medical office for advise, which fortunately agreed with what My Bigger Half and I had concluded: "take her to the ER. We thought she was having a stroke.
After a battery of tests all we really know was that she wasn't having a stroke. What we concluded on our own is that between her infection (or infections) and dehydration, she was suffering from AMS-Altered Mental Status. A fancy phrase to say she was confused, disoriented, and not herself.
In telling a few friends about this episode we started hearing similar stories about other seniors who suffered infections or AMS from either dehydration. I heard so many stories it hit me that this is a fairly common situation.
The simplified discussion I had with no-nonsense was that it's vital to drink ample water during the day. "Ample" of course is subjective, and varies by location and situation. She felt the 18 oz of water she drank daily was ample, but the results of that practice, with the infection, showed otherwise to me. It's commonly accepted that 8-oz glasses a day is about right for most people. Through just normal living you output about 1-10.5 cups of water/day. Your food provides about 20 percent of your liquid requirements, so the balance comes from what you drink. I'm not going to get into the discussion right now about whether just any ol' liquid counts towards water replacement, but I am going to take the stance that the healthiest approach is to drink two litres of water daily.
I went on to explain to no-nonsense that when you don't drink enough water, your blood gets thick. Thick blood strains the heart because it has to work harder to push that thicker liquid through your veins. And thick blood doesn't carry as much oxygen, depriving your brain and heart of the much needed oxygen they require for healthy function. Thick, deoxygenated blood is hard on all of your internal and external organs. Drinking water also helps the body heal from the infection by flushing out their toxins.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration include diarrhea, dry mouth, dry eyes, headache, palpitations, muscle cramps hearth, not sweating, nausea, shriveled skin, stinging during urination, thirst, and vomiting. In severe dehydration you start to see confusion and weakness, moving toward coma and death if not corrected.
You can do a few simple tests to try to diagnose yourself dehydration. Check the person's orientation, vital signs, temperature, and skin responses. Orientation for adults means asking questions, assuming they are awake, that will help you judge how aware they are of their surroundings. Checking muscle tone for infants and seniors, listlessness, as well as how awake, alert, and oriented the person is, are also part of testing you can do. For infants, check the fontanel (soft spot at the top of their head) to see if it's sunken, an indication of dehydration.
You may not have the tools to take a blood pressure, but you can take a pulse; a racing pulse, or at least one that's faster than normal, can be a sign of dehydration. And skin responses are also telling; elastic skin is hydrated skin (lightly grab a bit of skin between your fingers and let go; if the skin "tents" for several seconds the person is dehydrated). Dehydrated skin may also feel warm.
Dehydration also throws off electrolytes 15. That aggravates heart muscle weakness and disrhythmia, and can stress the kidneys as they strive to compensate for the electrolyte imbalance. The elderly and the young are especially at risk for dehydration.
Now, about infection and how it fits into this lesson I was given. Advanced age, staying still for a long time, and being a woman increased the chance of no-nonsense getting a UTI. Infections can contribute to confusion, or altered mental status. Oh, by the way, some of the liquids you should avoid if you have a UTI are caffeine and alcohol. And when you have an infection you should drink plenty of fluids. In fact, drinking plenty of fluids daily helps reduce the chance for a UTI. Aha! There's the getting plenty of liquids topic again.
OK, back to the essence of a healthy life "part of this article. I'm a strong advocate of drinking filtered (not bottled) water from glass or stainless steel containers. Lots of it. I think it has magical qualities.
By lots I mean at least two litres every day. People who are in hot climates or are active should drink more than two litres to replace the water lost from the heat or due to the exercising. If you start that practice now you will be in the habit by the time you become a senior (a moving target to say the least).
Staying hydrated will help your body maintain a healthy body, one that will fight germs. Ample water in your system will help all of your organs, from your skin to your heart and brain, to your digestive organs, stay healthy, vital and working well.
When you get sick, be sure to keep drinking lots of fluids to help your body heal. Pay attention to your mental status too. If you notice that you aren't quite yourself get to a doctor or the emergency room.
We can discuss which fluids count toward your two liters per day consumption later. You can't go wrong with pure water, though. Here's to your good health through green living!
Kit Cassingham conside greenie most of her life, even having a degree in Environmental Conservation. Her articles share lessons learned, both failures and successes. Food, cleaning, travel, energy and water conservation, waste reduction, home improvement projects, etc--it's all part of green living, which you can follow at http://www.wegetgreener.com/