Hyperhydration a bigger threat to athletes than dehydration

Hyperhydration a bigger threat to athletes then dehydration

Tim Noakes, MD, of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, has researched the dubious links between sports drinks and the dehydration industry.  Throughout history when humans went on long marches for many days, did they have to drink as much as we are told we have to today?  No of course not.  They would not have been able to carry that much water with them. 

Money, money, money and anxiety
Behind every dubious science there is always an industry funding it and making money from the sales and anxiety.  Doctor Noakes commented on his study called “Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports”.  He said “Over the past 40 years humans have been misled ... to believe that they need to drink to stay ‘ahead of thirst’ to be optimally hydrated.  In fact, relatively small increases in total body water can be fatal”.  A 2% increase in total body water leads to generalized edema that can impair physical and mental performance.  Even greater increases in overhydration can cause hyponatremic encephalopathy, leading to confusion, seizures, coma, and - if not reversed - death by respiratory arrest”. 

“Healthy athletes face ‘barely any risk’ of dehydration during competition in an endurance event.  Serious health risks - including inhibition of voluntary motor activity and paralysis - occur only when total body water decreases by 15% or more, which would require 48 hours in the desert with no water.  Confusion arose when the erroneous belief that all athletes who collapse after suffering from a dehydration-induced heat illness was promoted as part of the false ‘science of hydration’.  This dictated that people collapsing needed to drink more fluids during exercise and immediate resuscitation with large volumes of intravenous fluids.  However, athletes who collapse are neither hotter nor more dehydrated than control runners who complete the same races without collapsing”.

British Medical Journal Report says the same thing
Another report also suggests that hyperhydration, rather than dehydration, poses a greater health risk to athletes.  This research says that heat-induced dehydration rarely causes athletes to collapse during workouts or competition.  In most cases, the culprit is exercise-associated postural hypotension.

The report’s author, Deborah Cohen, a British Medical Journal investigative reporter traced the focus on hydration to a dubious collaboration between the sports drink industry and academia.  Cohen said “An investigation by the BMJ has found that companies have sponsored scientists, who have gone on to develop a whole area of science dedicated to hydration.  These same scientists advise influential sports medicine organizations, which have developed guidelines that have filtered down to everyday health advice…”

The Cohen Report covers an array of tricks and marketing ‘double-speak’ to create the anxiety around ‘hydration’:

  • Industry-funded websites that provide so-called ‘independent’ information or research on the importance of sports performance hydration
  • Sports drink advertisements that are made to look like scientific articles
  • Journal articles by scientists with financial ties to the sports drink industry (that are not fully disclosed as ‘paid writers’)
  • Large sports drink companies giving donations, grants or gifts to ‘sports medicine organizations’ or for ‘university-affiliated studies on hydration’

Who distributes Powerade?

The sugar-water company Coca-Cola.

Who distributes Lucozade?

The drug company GlaxoSmithKline.

Enough said.

Study by Noakes TD “Commentary: Role of hydration in health and exercise” as published in the British Medical Journal 2012; 344: e4171. 

Report by Cohen D “The truth about sports drinks” as published in the British Medical Journal 2012 345: e4737. 

As reported by MedPage Today July 18, 2012.

Posted: Friday 3 August 2012