Do you dutifully drink enough water per day, or do you (like many of us) let yourself get overly thirsty before gulping down a glass? It seems we’ve all heard we’re supposed to drink eight glasses a day, but how bad can it really be to miss a few? Turns out, pretty bad. In fact, being dehydrated may actually be a sneaky cause of heart disease!
Believe it or not, like other habits that you might not guess would affect your ticker — for example, eating dinner alone, or not getting enough sleep — not drinking enough water can be bad for your cardiac health. That’s according to a study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2016 that should have us all thinking twice about skipping those all-important eight glasses of water per day.
How the Study Worked
Conducted with just 10 healthy young men (average age: 24), the study measured the participants’ endothelial function, which is critical to our well-being. Endothelial cells keep our hearts going and our blood flowing smoothly, controlling the relaxation and contraction of our circulatory systems, as well as our blood clotting and immune functions.
Researchers first measured endothelial function when the study participants were well-hydrated. They then had the participants do 100 minutes of exercise to reach a dehydrated state, and put them on a low-water diet for the rest of the day. The next morning, the thirsty participants’ endothelial function was measured again.
The results showed that when participants were in a dehydrated state, both their plasma volume and endothelial function were lowered. Researchers concluded that even a small degree of dehydration induced by moderate exercise and fluid restriction still affects endothelial function. Over time, a low function, or dysfunction, of our endothelial cells can cause heart diseases like hypertension, atherosclerosis, and more.
How to Stay Hydrated
While drinking water is the easiest way to stay hydrated, some people prefer drinking other things to meet their daily requirements. If you’re not a fan of plain water, it’s really important to make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes, minerals like potassium, sodium, and manganese that help your body stay hydrated. These can come from sports drinks, but they’re also present in liquids like milk, as well as foods like avocado, chicken, and watermelon.
You can also stay hydrated by avoiding alcohol in excess, as that’s a sure-fire way to zap hydration. (That’s why we often wake up very thirsty and not feeling well after a night of drinking.) If you want to fight that hangover and replenish your body, try drinking coconut water, which is full of electrolytes and low in calories.
Feeling thirsty? Now you have a good reason to drink up! So go ahead and have a glass of water: Your heart will thank you.
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