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Drink Like a Fish: Hydration and Heart Health

By Martha Michael

You may think we know enough about cardiovascular health. For generations we’ve been warned about bad habits and how they contribute to the development of heart conditions. It’s easy to understand why we’re told not to smoke cigarettes in order to protect our cardiovascular health. But there’s something we do every day -- many, many times, in some cases -- that’s harmful to our bodies if we don’t do it enough.

What is it? Drinking.

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition actually compares mild dehydration to the effects of smoking a cigarette, according to the University of Arkansas website.

Associate Professor Stavros Kavouras from the Exercise Science Program at the university says the level of dehydration that can cause endothelial impairment is less than 2 percent, which is what you experience when you just begin to feel thirsty.

Study in Greece

There was a joint effort between University of Arkansas researchers and the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Harokopio University in Athens. They studied 10 healthy, young Greek men and had them perform mild walking exercises for 100 minutes in order to get to -2 percent of their body mass. They were given a small volume of water throughout the day, then the next morning researchers looked at their endothelial function and hydration markers.

Study results showed that hypohydration decreased the amount of plasma in their blood, a sign of impaired vascular function. The scientists concluded that even slight hypohydration from doing moderate exercise without taking in enough liquids had a negative impact on their endothelial function, a marker for atherosclerosis.

“Endothelial function is the dilation and constriction of the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels,” the University of Arkansas site says. “It plays a critical role in cardiovascular health. Atherosclerosis is the loss of flexibility in the blood vessels that leads to hardening of the arteries, a known contributor to cardiovascular disease.”

Application

It was the first study to link the two -- damage to endothelial function and low level dehydration -- shedding light on possible shifts in cardiovascular wellness. The experts are targeting individuals -- both men and women -- who can benefit from the research results. They include patients with:

  • Compromised cardiovascular system
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease

It’s good news, because hydration levels are something you can have a hand in changing.

Of course, it won’t do your heart much good to take a frat boy approach to the “drink like a fish” advice. But it won’t be the fish your cardiologist objects to, especially if it's replacing a dinner of burgers and fries.

 

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