Hydration: Good Hydration May Lower Disease Risk
It’s often reported that drinking water is essential for overall good health. Still, a new study suggests that drinking enough may lower the risk of developing chronic disease, slow the aging process, and reduce the risk of premature death.
In a study published in eBioMedicine in January, a research team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that people who stay well-hydrated have better long-term health outcomes.
“The results suggest that proper hydration may slow down aging and prolong a disease-free life,” Natalia Dmitrieva said in a news release about the study. Dmitrieva is a researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH.
With more people living longer and age-related chronic diseases rising, medical researchers have found safe, practical, and widely available ways to slow down the aging process and prevent such diseases.
NIH investigators believe optimal hydration might slow down the aging process based on past research conducted on mice. Previous studies found that restricting water intake led to organ degeneration and shortened the lifespan of mice by six months, which equals about 15 years of human life. So, the NIH research team explored whether hydration might also be associated with aging in people.
The NIH research team used health data from 11,255 adults in four U.S. communities and followed them up for over 25 years. The participants were 45 to 66 years old when the team began gathering data in 1987. The average age of participants was 76 at the final assessment during the study period.
The team focused on the participants’ serum sodium levels. Serum sodium is the amount of sodium in the body relative to the amount of water in the blood. Sodium levels increase when we drink fewer fluids. Normal serum sodium levels are between 135 and 146 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
Researchers calculated biological age based on biomarkers (characteristics of the body you can measure), such as the cardiovascular, renal, and respiratory systems.
The investigators found:
• Participants with sodium serum levels at the higher end of the normal range were 50 percent more likely to show signs of having a biological age greater than their chronological age.
• Those with a higher risk of faster aging also had a 64 percent higher risk of developing chronic diseases like heart failure, stroke, atrial fibrillation, peripheral artery disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and dementia.
• Participants with sodium serum levels above 144 mmol/L had a 21 percent increased risk of premature death.
• Serum sodium levels between 138-140 mmol/L had the lowest risk of developing chronic disease.
Dmitrieva said adults whose serum sodium is 142 mmol/L or higher would benefit from having an evaluation of their fluid intake.
How Much Water Should You Drink?
The study’s authors cited research showing that about half of people worldwide do not meet the recommendations for daily total water intake, which often starts at six cups. For example, the National Academies of Medicine suggests women drink six-to-nine cups of fluids daily, and men drink 8-to-12 cups a day.
“On the global level, this can have a big impact,” Dmitrieva said. “Decreased body water content is the most common factor that increases serum sodium, which is why the results suggest that staying well hydrated may slow the aging process and prevent or delay chronic disease.”
Besides drinking water, most people can increase their daily fluid intake with fruits, vegetables, and juices that have a high water content as well as low- or no-calorie beverages, such as plain coffee, tea, sparkling water, seltzers, and flavored waters.
While many people can safely increase the amount of water they drink, adults with underlying health conditions may need to consult their doctors first before increasing their fluid intake.
“The goal is to ensure patients are taking in enough fluids while assessing factors, like medications, that may lead to fluid loss,” Dr. Manfred Boehm, a study author and director of the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine, said in a news release. “Doctors may also need to defer to a patient’s current treatment plan, such as limiting fluid intake for heart failure.”
Tips for Drinking More Water
Staying well hydrated supports the body in a number of ways since water:
• Helps to manage body weight
• Reduces calorie intake when water is substituted for sweet tea, regular soda, and other drinks with calories
• Helps the body maintain a normal temperature
• Lubricates and cushions joints
• Protects the spinal cord and other sensitive tissues
For many people, drinking water is not a regular routine and is not on top of the list of their favorite drinks. So, as a way to drink more water, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following tips:
• Carry a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day.
• Freeze some freezer-safe water bottles. Take one with you for ice-cold water all day long.
• Choose water over sugary drinks.
• Opt for water when eating out. You’ll save money and reduce calories.
• Serve water during meals.
• Add a wedge of lime or lemon to your water. This can help improve the taste.
In an interview with CNN, Dr. B.J. Fogg, founder, and director of the Stanford University Behavior Design Lab, suggested placing water close to you during the day. For example, leave a glass of water at your bedside to drink when you wake up or drink water while you are brewing your morning coffee.