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It Takes More Than Just Water to Cure Your Dehydration Headache

By the time you finally start chugging water, that demon-of-a-headache is here to stay. Throw some coffee and alcohol into the mix and it can get a whole lot worse. Believe it or not, it might take more than just water to cure your dehydration headache.

The solution? Stay ahead of the game!

Here’s how to cure dehydration headaches for good by hydrating smarter. Prepare for “hydration-lightenment” in 3, 2, 1…

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It Takes More Than Just Water to Cure Your Dehydration Headache

What Do Dehydration Headaches Feel Like?

Dehydration headaches feel different depending on the person, but many patients describe them as a pulsing ache similar to a hangover. Physical activity and bright lights tend to make them worse. A recent survey published in the journal Headache found that roughly 10 percent of people experience dehydration headaches (1). In most cases symptoms get worse when you bend down, walk around or move your head.

Yeah, it’s fair to say that if you can't move your head you've got a problem.

In a separate study, 34 out of 95 chronic migraine patients said that dehydration triggers their migraines (2). When it comes down to it, dehydration and headaches are two peas in a pod.

Can Dehydration Cause Headaches All By Its Lonesome?

Dehydration happens when you lose too much fluid too fast. There are three main types of dehydration:

  • Hypertonic (hypernatremic): The loss of water
  • Hypotonic (hyponatremic): The loss of electrolytes (mostly sodium)
  • Isotonic (isonatremic): The loss of both water and electrolytes

Regardless of the type of dehydration, the symptoms are often similar and can include headaches and migraines. However, when electrolyte imbalances enter the picture it can kick symptoms up to a whole ‘nother level...

How Electrolytes Contribute to Dehydration

The body needs to keep electrolytes like magnesium and sodium in just the right ratios. If this delicate balance gets disrupted it can cause complications like fatigue, headaches and more.

What are electrolytes exactly? They’re compounds that conduct electricity in a solution. More importantly, your cells use them to communicate with each other, produce energy and support the organs. For example, electrolytes moderate pH balance and regulate heart rhythms. But when you’re dehydrated, critical electrolytes like potassium, sodium and chloride can get thrown out of whack. Ultimately, this can trigger muscle cramps, lethargy and headaches to the high heavens. Lord have mercy!

Here’s a quick overview of the roles that certain electrolytes play in hydration:

  • Sodium: helps maintain fluid balance and supports muscle contractions and nerve signaling
  • Chloride: maintains fluid balance
  • Calcium: helps with muscle contractions, cell division, blood clotting and nerve signaling
  • Potassium: regulates blood pressure, heart contractions and muscle functions
  • Magnesium: maintains heart rhythms, muscle contractions, bone-building, digestion, and reduces anxiety

Now let’s take a closer look at what can happen when electrolytes run amuck and dehydration sets in...

Common Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration

There’s a lot more to dehydration than just feeling thirsty. Common signs and symptoms of dehydration can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased urination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Shakiness
  • Headaches
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating

When ‘ish really hits the fan you may also experience fainting, blurry vision, loss of balance, kidney damage, heart problems and even seizures. Yikes! Electrolyte imbalances may also contribute to diarrhea, constipation and cramping.

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to cure dehydration headaches once and for all...

How to Cure Dehydration Headaches for Good

So you wanna put dehydration headaches in their place, huh? Drinking enough water and stocking up on electrolytes are all important steps, but they’re just two small pieces of a larger puzzle. You’ll also want to eat more hydrating foods and cut back on diuretics like coffee and alcohol.

Here’s how to hydrate like a champion:

Step #1: Drink Enough Water (but not too much)

You don’t have to chug ungodly amounts of water to stay hydrated AF. After all, the body can only absorb so much at one time before you start pissing like a racehorse. On the flipside, not drinking enough water can leave your cells dry as a bone.

The trick is to sip small amounts of water throughout the day. If you're thirsty, it’s already too late and a gnarly dehydration headache could be right around the corner.

So how much water is the perfect amount? It’s different for every person and depends on important questions like:

  • How often do you exercise? (and how hard)
  • Do you live in a hot climate? (and sweat a lot)
  • Do you eat a lot of processed foods? (that are loaded with sodium)
  • Do you eat plenty of water-rich fruits and veggies? (that hydrate your cells)
  • Have you been sick lately? (symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting can drain you of fluids)

All of these factors can affect your electrolyte and fluid levels and increase the risk of developing a dehydration headache.

Step #2: Eat More Hydrating Foods

Drinking isn’t the only way to stay hydrated. Here are ten of the most hydrating foods to include in your diet:

  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Coconut water
  • Kiwi
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Papaya
  • Carrots
  • Pineapple
  • Bell pepper

All of these foods have two important things in common: they contain lots of water and have a diverse electrolyte profile. Bananas and oranges contain a lot of water too, but they also have a lot of sugar (not great for staying hydrated). If you want a convenient way to hydrate with whole foods, green smoothies with cucumber, celery, papaya and a touch of coconut water are a convenient way to replenish your electrolytes.

Step #3: Watch Your Sodium Intake

Monitoring your sodium intake can help protect you from dehydration. The standard western diet is loaded with sodium: an electrolyte that plays a major role in retaining water. Too much sodium can cause the kidneys to excrete fluids, leading to an imbalance in potassium, calcium and magnesium. However, if you can cut back on processed foods you should be right as rain.

Step #4: Take Electrolytes

Electrolyte supplements are the easiest and most accurate way to manage your electrolyte intake. They contain the ideal ratio of minerals to keep your body and brain functioning at a high level.

The best part is, there is an option that can be added to any drink (Buoy Hydration’s Easy Squeezy Electrolytes)! You won’t even notice them!

Although sports drinks like Powerade and Gatorade contain similar active ingredients, they’re also loaded with sugar. Adding a hydration boost makes sense, but consuming extra sugar doesn’t. Any electrolyte supplement worth its salt should contain balanced levels of nutrients like:

  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Sodium

These minerals work together to regulate fluid balance and support brain health.

Step #5: Monitor Your Medications

Popping pills, even if they’re prescribed, can lead to serious electrolyte imbalances. Medications to look out for include:

  • Hormonal pills
  • Blood pressure meds
  • Antibiotics
  • Cancer treatments
  • Laxatives (diuretics)

Certain laxatives are “potassium-sparing,” meaning that potassium levels stay high while other electrolytes like magnesium and calcium plummet. Not good for hydration!

According to the World Journal of Emergency Medicine, even psychological stress can throw off fluid and electrolyte levels by disrupting your hormones (3). As a result, you may end up with anxiety, trouble sleeping, digestive issues and dehydration headaches.

Step #6: Cut Down On Alcohol, Sugar and Caffeine

Not to be a party pooper, but some of the most pleasurable substances have immediate drawbacks on hydration. Alcohol is at the top of the “Naughty List.” In fact, many of the classic hangover symptoms are due to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.

The good news is that you can prevent many of these symptoms by squeezing flavorless electrolyte supplements into your beer, cider or cocktail. However, most people don’t realize that the body needs electrolytes while drinking alcohol, not just before and after. Studies show that rehydrating with water can also reduce alcohol-related impairments in cognitive function (4).

It’s also important to avoid sugary beverages like soda and sports drinks, especially if you’re already thirsty. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that, “Rehydration with soft drink-like beverages exacerbates dehydration and worsens dehydration-associated renal injury” (5).

Translation? Sugar makes the side effects of dehydration worse.

Last but not least, large quantities of caffeine can increase the risk of dehydration. However, a 2015 meta-analysis found that moderate amounts of caffeine are okay, just don’t overdo it (6). Caffeine, sugar and alcohol are a normal part of a free-wheeling life, and we’re not asking you to give them up entirely.

With all that being said, a little moderation never hurt anyone. If you follow the recommendations in this article, you should be able to enjoy your shots of whiskey and espresso without getting dehydrated. Combine that with more hydrating foods, less table salt and more electrolyte supplements, and you can make dehydration headaches a thing of the past.

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References:

  1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2004.04014.x/abstract;jsessionid=E8995B370C0C2C06CD4CC95C35059322.f02t04
  2. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2005.05143_3.x/abstract
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4129840/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23352231
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6195650/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4725310/
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