It's Hot, Don't Forget to Water Your Brain: Parkland Hospital

A neurologist at Dallas' Parkland Hospital reminds North Texans as summer continues to heat up to drink plenty of water to not only keep our muscles and organs working properly, but to keep our brain functioning properly.

“The brain is one of the major users of energy in the body,” said Parkland neurologist and associate professor of neurology at UT Southwestern Medical Center Dr. Brendan Kelley. “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.”

When properly hydrated, the brain is more focused and you can think faster and your memory and creativity are sharper. Kelley added that "dehydration is a known factor in dementia and a problem seen in the elderly who may tend to be chronically dehydrated."

“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.

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.

With that in mind, Kelley said people should drink about 80 ounces of water per day to replace what we use -- that's eight, 10-ounce glasses or 10 8-ounce glasses.

“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," Kelley said. "And when it’s extremely hot, we become dehydrated more quickly, so frequent water breaks are important.”

Read that as "water breaks," not breaks for tea, coffee, soda or juice. Coffee and tea can work as a weak diuretic -- or something that causes you to urinate more, thereby removing more liquid from your body. Soda and juice contain additives and sugar that are "not ideal as the primary source of fluid intake."

Lastly, Parkland officials remind that "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."

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