3.5.4. Hydration Status

High-Hydration Status: Water Intoxication/Hyponatremia

Water intoxication mainly affects athletes who overhydrate. Water intoxication is extremely rare, primarily because healthy kidneys are capable of excreting up to one liter of excess water per hour. Overhydration was unfortunately demonstrated in 2007 by Jennifer Strange, who drank six liters of water in three hours while competing in a “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” radio contest. Afterward she complained of a headache, vomited, and died.

Low-Hydration Status: Dehydration

Dehydration refers to water loss from the body without adequate replacement. It can result from either water loss or electrolyte imbalance, or, most commonly, both. Dehydration can be caused by prolonged physical activity without adequate water intake, heat exposure, excessive weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, infectious diseases, malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, and very high glucose levels.

Physiologically, dehydration decreases blood volume. The water in cells moves into the blood to compensate for the low blood-volume, and cells shrink. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include thirst, dizziness, fainting, headaches, low blood-pressure, fatigue, low to no urine output, and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness and death. Signs and symptoms are usually noticeable after about 2 percent of total body water is lost.

Chronic dehydration is linked to higher incidences of some diseases. There is strong evidence that low-hydration status increases the risk for kidney stones and exercise-induced asthma. There is also some scientific evidence that chronic dehydration increases the risk for kidney disease, heart disease, and the development of hyperglycemia in people with diabetes. Older people often suffer from chronic dehydration as their thirst mechanism is no longer as sensitive as it used to be.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body temperature is greater than 105.1°F (40.6°C). It is the result of the body being unable to sufficiently cool itself by thermoregulatory mechanisms. Dehydration is a primary cause of heat stroke as there are not enough fluids in the body to maintain adequate sweat production, and cooling of the body is impaired. Signs and symptoms are dry skin (absence of sweating), dizziness, trouble breathing, rapid pulse, confusion, agitation, seizures, coma, and possibly death. Dehydration may be preceded by heat exhaustion, which is characterized by heavy sweating, rapid breathing, and fast pulse. The elderly, infants, and athletes are the most at risk for heat stroke.

DASH Diet (Regulating Dietary Sodium To Reduce Hypertension)

Figure Measuring Blood Pressure

Source: “Testing a GI’s blood pressure at Guantanamo” by Charlie Helmholt/ Public Domain

The DASH-Sodium trial was a clinical trial which evaluated the effects of a specified eating plan with or without reduced sodium intake. The DASH diet is an eating plan that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat. Fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, and nuts are emphasized while red meats, sweets, and sugar-containing beverages are mostly avoided. In this study, people on the low-sodium (1500 milligrams per day) DASH diet had mean systolic blood pressures that were 7.1 mmHg lower than people without hypertension not on the DASH diet. The effect on blood pressure was greatest in participants with hypertension at the beginning of the study who followed the DASH diet. Their systolic blood pressures were, on average, 11.5 mmHg lower than participants with hypertension on the control diet.[1]

Following the DASH diet not only reduces sodium intake, but also increases potassium, calcium, and magnesium intake. All of these electrolytes have a positive effect on blood pressure, although the mechanisms by which they reduce blood pressure are largely unknown.

Try for Yourself

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has prepared an informative fact sheet on the DASH diet: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.
Use the food-group charts to help design a daily menu that follows the DASH eating plan.



  1. Sacks, FM, Svetkey LP, et al. Effects on Blood Pressure of Reduced Dietary Sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet. N Engl J Med. 2001; 344(1), 3–10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11136953. Accessed September 22, 2017.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Fundamentals of Health and Physical Activity by Kerri Z. Delaney and Leslie Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.