WHEN YOU ARE SICK, WHY DO DOCTORS ALWAYS SAY, “DRINK PLENTY OF LIQUIDS?”

It’s really common sense because the human body is about 60% water and virtually
all physiologic functions from circulation, breathing, digestion, elimination,
mobility, even thinking require water to function properly. (The brain and heart are
about 73% water and the lungs about 83%.) When we are sick with a cold,
infection, allergic response, etc. our immunologic(defense) system requires extra
water to fight off the problem.
When we are attacked by a virus, bacteria or antigen we generally get a fever as part
of the defensive response….. and because of elevated body temperature we lose
water more rapidly through the lungs and the skin. This in turn can easily lead to
dehydration and all body functions become less effective. In states of dehydration
fever is increased, symptoms such as headache, weakness, muscle and joint aching,
etc. are made worse.
Sick patients in the hospital are often monitored for “I & O” which means Intake and
Output. Liquids taken in by mouth and by infusion are measured as is the urinary
output. Calculations as to how much liquid volume is lost by respirations, sweating,
etc. are estimated. The hydration of a sick patient is very important to recovery.
So how does one monitor I & O at home? The easiest way is to keep an eye on
urinary function. If you are getting dehydrated, your urine output will decrease and
the urine will become dark as your kidneys function to preserve water. If you are
taking enough liquids to cover normal needs and the extra needs of an illness, your
urine will be pale and between one and two liters per day. Unless you have certain
kidney problems it is best to be on the high side of liquid intake and your kidneys
will adjust with increased urinary output.
Fluids help in coughs, colds and upper respiratory infections (URI’s) by keeping
your mucus thin so it can be cleared from the lungs and sinuses. [A normal healthy
adult produces a liter of liquid mucus every day in the respiratory tract.] The muco-
ciliary transport mechanism works best if mucus is not too thick.
Here are several ways to increase your fluid intake:
1. Drink ten (10) 8-ounce glasses of water every day.
2. Glamorize water to increase your intake… hot or iced tea, coffee, soft drinks,
fruits juices or fruit flavored drinks are all ways to increase intake to desired levels.
3. Eat water… Soups are good. Fruits and vegetables are 80% water. Fish is 75%
water while beef, ham and eggs are 50%.
4. Inhale water … an electric vaporizer is best, but an old-fashioned steam kettle or
pot on the stove can be useful. A hot steamy shower can help lungs clear thick
mucus when that is a problem.
STAY HYDRATED James White, M.D.

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