I was fine. Two days of holiday cooking and entertaining were successfully under my belt, and we were now leaving to visit relatives for the day. I felt a small cramp in my lower back, but thought nothing of it. Still working out the kinks of sleep, I thought. But then my left knee gave out. My son asked if I was all right – I’m fine, I replied, there was no pain and I didn’t fall. It’s all good. But within ten minutes, I could feel the nerve that ran from the center of my back down into that knee plainly. It wasn’t overly painful, but I was quickly discovering that standing up straight stabbed my back and disabled my knee simultaneously. Everything was fine if I sat down, so we continued with our day – driving didn’t bother me a bit. We joked about how I’d like my disability scooter equipped. By the next morning, though, I was stuck in a hunched-over, 80 year-old woman stance with limited ability to move anything. I headed over to the chiropractor.
I knew he’d fix me in a jiffy, like always, but he surprised me with his first treatment. He handed me a cup of water with a superdose of electrolytes in it. He chastised me for not immediately drinking when the first back cramp struck. I should’ve known that.
Most people know what dehydration looks like in the middle of heat and exercise, but winter dehydration comes on more gradually and is a bit different. I had none of the signs my quick Google search gave me to look for with dehydration. What I did have:
- cramps across the lower back
- vision had been worse for several days
- thigh muscles were hard as rocks
- craving sweets
- a headache (I didn’t have this one, but it’s quite common)
Who hasn’t felt like this after a day of working on our feet? None of these are overly notable in the midst of the holidays. These are actually the most common symptoms of low intakes of water and electrolytes.
Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride work together in your body to make sure the water pressures inside and surrounding your cells are perfect so that the cells don’t shrivel up or explode. When dissolved in water, the minerals develop electrical charges which regulate whether water flows into our out of the cells, lubricating our joints and operating nerve impulses. This is what keeps our hearts pumping and everything else in the body working.
While I was happily celebrating the holidays, my water levels were getting low. Sugar and alcohol depleted my minerals while replacing my normal water intake. My eyes, which rely on moisture to focus, tried to alert me, but I ignored them and put glasses on to continue with my work. Then everything came to a screeching halt after my morning coffee, a diuretic which depleted both minerals and water a little further. Muscles cramped, nerves fired with pain but not for movement, and there was no more lubrication for the bones in the area.
Normally, a whole food diet supplies enough minerals and electrolytes to keep a non-athlete hydrated. But in a recovery situation like this, supplements are in order. Power Pak or Emergen-C are your best options, and are easy to find in stores. Trace Minerals Research has a whole line of sugar-free products designed for rehydration based on your needs. Nuun sells a purse or backpack-friendly plastic vial of ten tablets. It’s very easy to keep little packets or a small bottle on hand to be mixed with water as needed. There are others, but I cannot speak from experience of using them.
How much water do you need? A basic rule of thumb is to drink half of your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of water. That means that if you weigh 170 lbs, you’ll want 85 oz, or about 10-1/2 glasses of water daily. This doesn’t have to mean that you’ll be running to the restroom every 20 minutes. Ensuring that you have enough minerals in your system holds the water where it needs to be.
Celtic Sea Salt (which is not standard table salt, but a natural mineral mix) is a delicious way to make sure you’re getting the trace minerals your body needs for maintenance. Just season your food to taste at every meal and drink a glass of pure water alongside. I keep a large glass of water on my desk to remind me to hydrate. I just need to find a new trigger for when I’m in the kitchen (or stay at my desk!)
Dehydration shouldn’t be a normal part of winter. With a little attention to eating whole foods and drinking plenty of pure water, the body can be properly nourished so we can do what we want to do well.
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