Why Hydration Is So Important for Your Heart (And Afib)
June 28, 2023
With all the ailments we as Americans have and the medicines and procedures available to treat them, we often overlook some of the easiest, most accessible, and most important lifestyle changes that can make a significant difference. Staying hydrated and getting enough water falls into this category. A substantial portion of our bodies are made up of water, so staying hydrated is, clearly, very important.
While we all know the signs of severe dehydration, it’s often difficult to remind ourselves that there are more subtle signals that we may need extra water. Importantly, even a 1 or 2% deficit in hydration can make a huge difference physically and cognitively. We may think of hydration as only necessary during periods of heavy exercise; however, water improves our general physical health. Have you ever tried taking a glass of water when you feel sluggish during the day? For most, this offers an almost immediate boost. Dehydration has been linked to feelings of tiredness as well as feelings of hunger. Both have detrimental effects.
How Hydration Affects the Heart
It’s all good to discuss the many and varied benefits of drinking water or staying hydrated more generally. However, we must examine how hydration affects the heart – something you may be particularly interested in, especially if you are currently dealing with heart disease. To fully understand the consequences of dehydration on our bodies and Afib, we must review how the heart works. The heart is a massive pump, pushing oxygenated blood to every corner of the body. The large arteries stemming from the heart, known as the coronary arteries, are the largest blood vessels in our bodies. This is for a good reason: they need to move an incredible amount of blood with every beat.
Further, this blood is pushed at very high-pressure levels, so these arterial walls are purposely elastic to allow for proper movement. As we get older, however, our hearts begin to lose some of their efficiency, and arterial walls begin to harden. This can be hastened by the buildup of plaque in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, or from something many Americans are chronically deficient in – hydration. If you think about blood, it comprises red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma (composed of 90% brackish or salty water). When dehydrated, the water concentration in these blood cells begins to diminish, and they can’t move throughout the body as easily. This, of course, leads to high blood pressure or hypertension, which is a significant risk factor for atrial fibrillation.
How Much Water Is Enough?
Few patients drink enough water to consider themselves fully hydrated. Traditional thinking states that the average adult requires about 64 ounces or eight glasses of water each day. This guidance is often criticized for being too low by some in the medical field. Some believe that ten or even 12 glasses of water each day is the minimum that the average person should drink. This may go even higher if the person is very active and sweating quite a bit or if the weather is particularly hot or cold.
A helpful measure of hydration is the color of your urine. If it is straw-colored, you are well hydrated. If you see medium-to-dark yellow or amber-colored urine in the toilet, this is the time to drink more and get back to a baseline of hydration. If your urine is always white, you may be drinking too much. While you probably won’t know exactly how much water you need to ingest over the first few days, your body will tell you if you’re on the right track. Most who prioritize hydration have more energy and feel better throughout the day. Remember, it may be tempting to consider coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks as part of your hydration quota, but we generally discount their helpfulness. Caffeinated drinks act as a diuretic, so you’re also expelling liquid more quickly after drinking these beverages.
Beyond physically improving your blood flow and potentially reducing your blood pressure and, ultimately, the risk of Afib, drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated has several psychological and physical health benefits. By staying hydrated, you can even lose weight as you’ll be more motivated to exercise and avoid the common concern of head hunger (when your brain believes you are hungry, but you’re actually just thirsty and dehydrated).
As we become more aware that body mass index and even waist size can be predictors of new or worsened Afib and other cardiac arrhythmias, hydration becomes an ever-greater part of the larger health push needed to treat the condition.
While lifestyle changes alone typically do not fully resolve atrial fibrillation, they are certainly part of the treatment continuum to assist patients in improving their health status.