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The Dangers of Seasonal Dehydration — And How to Avoid It

Bottoms up!

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When the heat is bearing down on you in summer, nothing’s more refreshing than an ice-cold glass of water. But when summer fades and colder temperatures set in, your thirst alarm chills out, too. Still, getting enough liquids is just as important during the fall and winter months — in fact, you’re more likely to be dehydrated this time of year. Read on to see why, and to find out what you can do to combat seasonal dehydration. 

Why is it harder to stay hydrated in cold weather?

If you don’t drink as much in colder months, you’re not alone — many people struggle with seasonal dehydration. Why? Because it’s hard to quench a thirst you’re not feeling. According to a study from the University of New Hampshire, hormonal thirst cues are not triggered during drops in temperature. Instead, the body prioritizes heat retention over monitoring blood volume, which is what typically alerts the brain to dehydration. The study notes that in cold weather, “thirst sensation is reduced by up to 40 percent.”

Not only is your brain not signaling thirst when you’re cold, your tastebuds may not be, either. Because you’re chilly, you simply don’t crave drinks, which are most often consumed cold or at room-temperature, says hydration expert Kelly Barnes

Another reason for seasonal dehydration is fluid loss via sweating, respiration, and urination. In summer, we expect to sweat. In winter, we don’t. However, bundling up to stay warm when it’s cold out means wearing layers and heavy fabrics, both of which cause you to perspire from added weight and warmth. (They don’t call ’em “sweaters” for nothing.) Sweat also evaporates more quickly in cold, dry temperatures, making you less likely to feel it on your skin and, thus, less likely to be aware that you’re losing fluids.

Also, seeing puffs of your own exhalations during crisp mornings is more than just a fun reminder of changing seasons; the vapor you expel is mostly water, so you’re losing liquid with every breath. The European Hydration Institute reports that “breathing cold, dry air can increase respiratory water loss,” and adds that as the body’s temperatures decrease, urination increases due to “cold-induced diuresis,” causing even more fluid loss. 

Why does seasonal hydration matter?

You already know hydration is important for your health, but did you know that staying hydrated in the colder months actually has season-specific benefits? Studies show that when the air is colder and drier, sicknesses like flu and pneumonia spread more easily; because it’s colder outside, we’re spending more time inside, which puts us in closer quarters with others and thus at a higher risk of exposure to virus-carrying respiratory droplets. Staying hydrated acts as a countermeasure by helping to boost your immunity. Our blood, which is mostly made of water, delivers nutrients to organs and keeps the immune system functioning. If you aren’t drinking enough water, your “detoxification pathways” can’t operate at their optimal level, and you won’t get the defense you need against “foreign invaders” like viruses, says the University of California, Irvine. So drink up, as seasonal dehydration can put you at higher risk for infection.

Drinking more water can also keep you warmer and more comfortable in cold temperatures. You may be thinking, wait, drinking cools you off in the summer — how can it also help me stay warm when I’m shivering? It turns out that fluids help the body maintain safe and healthy temperatures, says a study from Penn State: “Although it may not seem like a cold drink will help keep you warm, hydration is essential to the body’s ability to prevent hypothermia.” So if you’re chilly, start sipping. 

How can I stay hydrated when I don’t feel like drinking?

When Jack Frost is nipping at your nose, it’s hard to reach for a cool glass of lemonade. The good news: You don’t need a cold drink, or even a drink at all, to reap the benefits of hydration. “We can get fluid from a variety of healthy sources … broth soups and fruits and vegetables are foods that can provide much-needed fluid … [and] healthy choices of warm beverages include a glass of warm apple cider, warm low-fat or fat-free milk, or a mug of unsweetened hot herbal tea,” says the Penn State study. So, fire up the kettle and load your plate with a delicious fall salad, and you’ll be hydrated and warmed from the inside out. 

It’s important to note that not every liquid is hydrating — especially alcohol. With the holidays approaching, there are more opportunities to stay in and drink wine by the fire, so you might be consuming more booze. Drinking is fine in moderation, but keep in mind that it will take a hit on your hydration levels and make you more susceptible to damage from the cold, since alcohol makes your skin warm, reducing the shiver response and inhibiting your awareness of cold temperatures. If you’re still craving a tipple, worry not: Non-alcoholic wine from Jøyus is award-winning, delicious, and festive, without all the detrimental effects of alcohol. (Also, it comes from the only sober-owned, woman-owned, non-alcoholic winery in the US.) Pour up and chill out — without actually, you know, chilling out (Buy online or from retailers near you, prices vary). 

One final tip to help you drink more water in the cold weather and avoid seasonal dehydration: consider what you’re drinking from. Some people (myself included) drink more from a cup or bottle with a lid and a straw than from an open-mouthed container. I like the novelty of keeping my drink shielded from the elements with a lid, and sipping from a straw takes a lot less effort than unscrewing a top — not to mention there’s less chance of me spilling. I also like how some bottles are insulated to keep my drink at the perfect temperature. Try the Simple Modern insulated bottle (Buy from Amazon, $24.99) and see if the straw trick works for you. 

As days get shorter and temperatures plummet, staying hydrated will help you feel your best. Let’s raise a toast to staying toasty.

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