The No. 1 Way to Hydrate (And No, It's Not Water)

Doc's Note: Dr. Param Dedhia is one of the most interesting people I've met. He's a physician trained at Johns Hopkins who is an integrative doctor – he practices both modern and traditional medicine. He serves as the Weight Loss Program Leader and the Director of Sleep Medicine at Canyon Ranch, a wellness retreat in Tucson, Arizona. He's board-certified in sleep medicine, internal medicine, and obesity medicine, and he also did a fellowship in geriatrics (that's for us old folks).

Today, Param is sharing his secret for the best way to stay hydrated... 

If I (Param) asked you what's the best thing to do to hydrate, what would you say? Drink water?

You'd be wrong.

Shocking, I know. And no, I'm not in the anti-drink-water camp. You still need water. But it's not the best at hydrating you.

It might surprise you that the answer comes from studying gruel.

At Hopkins, I had the honor of studying under Dr. William Greenough, an expert in geriatric medicine. He's interested in dehydration. Richard traveled to Bangladesh in the '60s during a terrible cholera outbreak. Cholera leads to extreme diarrhea, which leads to water leaving the body too fast. If you've got cholera, you desperately need fluids. You can imagine, villages Richard visited were so remote, they had a hard time getting access to things like IVs and rehydration supplies.

Richard found that the best hydration came from a food called congee – basically rice boiled for hours until it's a porridge-like thickness. It's high in water and also nutrients. (Doc told me he loves eating congee for breakfast when he's traveling in Asia.)

The idea is that consuming foods containing not just water but also nutrients helps us better absorb the water. The chemical transporters in our gut tube (because our whole digestive system is really just a tube, right?) are really good at pulling in nutrients from what we eat. And water flows where the nutrients go. You might remember this from your days in chemistry class – it's osmosis. That's why the best way to take in water is to take in nutrients with it.

What's the point here, you might wonder. Well, Doc recently asked me about my best tips for traveling. We're both heading to the Alliance conference in Vegas next week, so we'll be cooped up in planes. Doc wanted to know how to avoid jet lag and feel great and refreshed after his trip.

I answered him with one of my favorite authors – Ralph Waldo Emerson. To paraphrase, Emerson wrote "principles over method."

So, the what comes before the how.

When you ask what my No. 1 tip for traveling is, I want you to understand the principle first, then the method.

And the main principle for traveling is this – altitude causes dehydration.

Think about it. When you're on an airplane, do you have to pee more? It might seem counterintuitive, but that's an early sign you're dehydrated. That's because your urine is more concentrated, which irritates your bladder and makes you feel the urge to go more often. Dehydration makes us feel sick. It causes headaches, sleepiness, trouble concentrating, irritability, and an upset stomach. Not to mention airplanes are much drier than our homes (less than 20% humidity versus 30% to 40%), so we're already dealing with dry eyes and skin, too.

Now that we understand the principle – that flying causes dehydration and that makes us feel bad – we can focus on the methods. This is where William's lessons from Bangladesh come into play.

First, take a good look at what you're eating. Use the plate method. Half of your plate should be plants. Simple, right? Fruits, vegetables, beans... You want to get not just good water content, but also good fiber and nutrients. It's important too because dehydration leads to increased hunger. And not for the good stuff. We start to crave sugars and fats. So eating well before you feel dehydrated will keep you away from those fat bombs.

At the airport, your options are limited – where can you possibly find nutritious food? Simple adjustments. Ask for extra tomatoes or lettuce for your sandwich. Switch the fries out for fruit. Make a conscious effort to keep half your plate all plants and you'll get the benefit of all those micronutrients. Plants also naturally boost our hydration, so definitely do this the day before and the day of traveling. I'd also look for soups and broths at the airport to boost hydration.

Second, I think people should skip the alcohol and caffeine. Both these things, although fun to drink, make your body flush out water and dehydrate. Altitude affects the same chemicals in our body, so you're just speeding up the dehydration process. I know I'm not making any friends by saying skip the glass of wine (especially Doc), but I'm trying to help you improve your health.

Keep this principle in mind – hydration is key to good health. You'll have an easier time traveling, and feel better both during and after your flight.

And if you're coming to Vegas, I want to see you! Look for my presentation with Steve Sjuggerud on Monday and a breakout session with Doc and Steve on Tuesday.

All the best,

Param Dedhia, MD