Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Electrolyte Additives for Hydration

The current issue of the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, published by the Wilderness Medical Society, has a number of very interesting articles of significance to the layperson outdoor medicine enthusiast.

"Effects of an Electrolyte Additive on Hydration and Drinking Behavior During Wildfire Suppression," by John S. Cuddy and his colleagues (WEM volume 19, pages 172-180, 2008), describes a study designed to compare the effects of a water plus electrolyte solution versus plain water on changes in drinking behaviors, hydration status, and body temperatures during wildfire suppression activities. In this particular study, eight participants consumed plain water, and eight participants consumed water plus an electrolyte additive (Elete by Mineral Resources, Ogden, Utah) that contained magnesium, sodium, chloride, potassium and sulfate. The participants were provided specially outfitted backpack hydration systems with three-liter capacity from CamelBak (Petaluma, California).

During the measurement period, the participants were monitored for volume of fluid consumed, body weight, core, and skin temperatures. Work output was measured, as was the environmental temperature. The results indicated that all things being equal, the major difference noted between the water group and the water plus electrolytes group was that a remarkably lower fluid consumption (approximately 3.3 liters per day) was noted in the water plus electrolytes group. This suggests that supplementing water with electrolytes might reduce the amount of fluid necessary to transport and consume during extended activity. This would minimize excessive weight, which in and of itself might contribute to a lessening of fatigue.

In this study, the amount of fluid consumed was at the discretion of the participant, so was presumably driven by thirst. It would be very interesting to replicate this study in other situations where rehydration is important, such as high altitude travel, competitive sports, and recreational sports. It would be important to control for as many variables as possible, such as beverage temperature, taste, food intake, and so forth. It would also be useful to determine if this information has any applicability in a survival situation.

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Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.