We are regularly told to drink plenty of water to maintain our health. A new study provides a few more good reasons to stay well hydrated, including fewer chronic health problems and a greater chance of living a longer life.
This is based on research involving 11,255 adults who were interviewed five times over 25 years on factors such as socioeconomic status and family medical history.
Clinical tests on the volunteers provided measurements of sodium in their blood serum, which was used as an indicator of their fluid intake. Usually, the more water we drink, the lower the level of sodium in our bloodstream.
“The results suggest that proper hydration can slow aging and prolong a disease-free life,” says researcher Natalia Dmitrieva, of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in Maryland.
Previous research has found a link between high blood sodium levels and an increased risk of heart failure. The normal range for a person’s blood sodium levels is usually between 125 and 146 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L). In the study, serum samples with higher sodium levels were also more likely to contain elevated levels of up to 15 different markers of biological health and aging.
For example, those with sodium levels above 142 mEq/L had an associated 10-15% increased likelihood of being biologically older than their chronological age, compared to those with more typical ranges. There was also an associated 64% higher risk of developing chronic diseases, including heart failure, stroke, atrial fibrillation, chronic lung disease, diabetes and dementia.
The study authors suggest that measuring blood sodium levels could inform doctors’ advice. People who are in the danger zone when it comes to fluid intake could take steps to get more water into their system – not only by drinking it, but also through juices, vegetables and of fruits.
“The goal is to make sure patients are getting enough fluids, while assessing factors, such as medications, that may be causing fluid loss,” says lead researcher Manfred Boehm of NHLBI.
“Physicians may also need to defer to a patient’s current treatment plan, such as limiting fluid intake for heart failure.”
The researchers point out that their method cannot prove that the volunteer’s hydration is primarily responsible for increasing their chances of being healthy. Randomized controlled trials are more suitable for this, although we can already see an association that merits further investigation.
Fluid intake is also not the only factor that affects blood sodium levels, although the researchers controlled for variables such as age, race and biological sex, as well as excluding study participants with conditions such as diabetes or habits such as smoking. could affect their sodium levels.
It’s also worth pointing out that this study focuses more on the health risks of dehydration, rather than the additional positive effects of staying hydrated – although the two are of course related to some degree.
Currently, about half of the world’s population does not meet the recommended daily intake (which typically starts at around 1.5 liters per day). There are several reasons for this, including access to clean drinking water. Ensuring that all communities have a clean water supply on hand should be the number one priority to maintain everyone’s health.
For those with plenty of options, increasing this fraction could make a significant difference in terms of disease and mortality risk.
“Globally, this can have a big impact,” says Dmitrieva. “Decreased body water content is the most common factor that increases serum sodium, so the results suggest that staying well hydrated may slow the aging process and prevent or delay chronic disease.”
The research has been published in eBioMedicine.