Hydration crisis: Exercise science program explores the value of proper hydration

Hydration crisis: Exercise science program explores the value of proper hydration

Kailyn Angelakos is a health sciences major studying the effects of hypernatremia with Dr. Tamara Hew in the Prevention Research Center. Pictured at top, psychology major Katherine Toering volunteers to participate in the study. Below, Kailyn analyzes blood as part of the study. 
Over-hydration can lead to death.

This issue has been faced by multiple athletes and recently caused the death of two 17-year-old high school football players.

“They should not have died,” said Tamara Hew, associate professor of Exercise Science at Oakland. Dr. Hew focuses her research on the health of athletes and is currently looking into the correlation between over-hydrating and abnormally low amounts of sodium in the body.

“Although clinically significant hyponatremia is rare, the evidence is firm that every single death from exercise-associated hyponatremia is avoidable,” she added.

Exercise-associated hyponatremia is a preventable condition that occurs during or following exercise as a result of ingesting too much water. When exercising and taking in too much water, a person’s sodium levels drop dangerously low. This causes blood cells to swell, and if too much swelling occurs, death can result. Even minimal hyponatremia can cause kidney failure, muscle breakdown and bone loss. Dr. Hew studies the effects that exercise-associated hyponatremia have on the body.

This winter, she will gather with 16 other researchers throughout the world who specialize in exercise-associated hyponatremia to discuss the hydration crisis in athletes. The International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Conference will address the perils of improper hydration and update the Consensus Statement that offers guidelines referring to hyponatremia.

“We can consciously control the amount of fluid that enters our body and must reconsider, re-educate and reinforce appropriate fluid intake and intravenous fluid guidelines,” Hew said. “Medical personnel, professional societies and industries must strive harder to connect in order to translate evolving scientific recommendations and guidelines down to the ground level: the athletes.”

Encouraging students to further their research into the subject, Dr. Hew works with health sciences majors to explore the effects of both high and low sodium intake in the body.

In contrast to hyponatremia, hypernatremia is the intake of high amounts of sodium or excess water loss in the body. Kailyn Angelakos, a health sciences and biology major, is utilizing Dr. Hew’s knowledge in exercise science to study the effects of supplemental sodium intake on bone mineral density and to compare the ways in which sodium is redistributed throughout the body, as her Honors Thesis Project.

“We know that excess sodium intake leads to hypernatremia, but it is unclear the extents to which it contributes to increases in bone mineral density, and to the overall distribution of sodium within and excreted from the body,” Angelakos said.

Looking to promote the health and wellness of athletes, Oakland’s Exercise Science program uses the School of Health Sciences’ Prevention Research Center to conduct these studies. In addition, Dr. Hew works diligently with students and professionals throughout the nation to re-educate athletes in proper hydration.

“The goal is no more deaths due to hyponatremia,” Dr. Hew said. “We have an innate craving for how much fluid we need, and when we outsmart these cravings, that’s when we get in trouble.”

— by Kelli Titus