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Clinical Articles, Lead Article

Conference Explores Optimal Hydration

Many young people today appear obsessed with keeping their water intake high, with potential (if rare) devastating effects. Research on the relationship between hydration and health has been presented by leading experts and researchers at a British Nutrition Foundation conference held recently in London, which may help clarify some of these issues.

Bridget Benelam from the British Nutrition Foundation explained why the amount of water we need to be healthy can be so difficult to define: “Everyone knows that we need water to live, but what is less widely understood is how variable our fluid requirements are. From day-to-day the amount of water we need changes depending on factors such as temperature, humidity and physical activity. Also, two people under exactly the same conditions may need completely different amounts of water due to individual physiological differences. The good news is that our bodies have sophisticated mechanisms to make sure we stay hydrated, and that we as individuals can take simple steps to ensure our body water stays topped up”.

water02Vanessa Shaw, head of dietetics at Great Ormond Street Hospital highlighted that physiological differences in infants and young children mean that their water requirements are relatively higher than those of adults. This can make them more vulnerable to dehydration. Professor Patrick Ritz from Université Paul Sabatier, France then outlined the prevalence of dehydration in older people, and the adverse effects this can have on health and wellbeing in this population.

Dr Susan Shirreffs from the University of Loughborough described how hydration could affect exercise performance under different conditions. Evidence suggests that dehydration equivalent to a 2% loss in body mass impairs the performance of endurance exercise in a hot environment (e.g. 31-32oC), but that in a temperate environment (20-21oC) this level of dehydration did not have a significant effect.

The issue of hydration and health has found growing prominence in the media in recent years. Although it is positive that awareness of hydration is raised, the downside is that messages from the media about hydration can be contradictory. Consumer perception of healthy hydration messages was the subject of the presentation by Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George’s Hospital.  She explained that, although 9 out of 10 consumers think that drinking water is important for health, they often don’t have all the facts. She emphasised that health professionals must challenge myths and misconceptions about hydration.

Part of the conference comprised a series of short presentations given by researchers in the field of hydration and health. This was chaired by Professor Ron Maughan of the University of Loughborough and Dr Jane Holdsworth of the European Institute of Hydration and provided an insight into some of the latest research in this field. Areas covered included research into hydration status in the workplace, beverage consumption in children and the hydration status of ultra-marathon runners.

This session was concluded with a presentation from Professor Maughan, outlining the current state of research on hydration. He explained that, despite the interest in this area, we still need more data to give an accurate picture of fluid consumption and hydration status of the population as a whole.

Published on: December 9, 2010

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