Recently for four days I experienced diarrhea, headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, the sweats, and panting. Yes, I was panting! While sitting in the cockpit, my body was hunched over and I felt as if I was using all my energy to simply breathe.
“What’s wrong with me?” I kept saying to my husband
At first, I thought it was a combination of food poisoning and difficulty dealing with high temperatures. The symptoms started just as the hot weather in Greece arrived – we were experiencing temperatures over 100 F/38 C.
The diarrhea arrived with a headache and thereafter I lost more and more energy each day. When I woke in the morning and stretched my legs I had to quickly stop as they started to cramp up. My sleep was totally broken – the heat and my achy body had me up and down from dusk until dawn. I’d fall asleep in the cockpit, move to the saloon and end up in my bed.
I felt absolutely horrible – all day and night
Feeling desperate, my husband and I sailed to a marina so we could hook up to mains electricity so to run our air conditioner, get some provisions and allow myself to get better. I felt as if I couldn’t cool myself down.
With the air conditioner running I felt slightly better but after any effort my energy would dissipate instantly. My appetite reduced drastically but I kept drinking loads of water (as I always do).
With little energy, I decided to sleep off my issue
After napping I woke in a pool of sweat – I know it sounds disgusting (and it was). And it seemed that the more I drank the more I sweat.
I’m definitely not a sweaty type person…
I explained to hubby that it seemed like my body wasn’t absorbing water
As soon as I drank it I would sweat it out. Furthermore, my pee was dark yellow to brown no matter how much I kept drinking.
By day four, we left the marina and headed for a bay. The idea was to get out of the sweltering marina, find a cool airy spot to anchor and have the ability to cool down with a nice calm swim.
Once we arrived in a bay we met up with a couple friends from other boats. We met for cocktails and after mentioning my issues, Mike from sailboat ‘Zulu’ said, ‘it sounds like you’re dehydrated.’
The instant Mike mentioned dehydration a light bulb went off in my head
I thought, ‘could it be as simple as that?!’ And then, of course, not wanting to be wrong with my original self-diagnosis I thought, ‘no – I have food poisoning. I drink water all the time – I couldn’t be dehydrated’
It’s so crazy how we always want to be right despite our best interests
Mike took his dingy back to his boat and grabbed a couple hydration packets he had on board and delivered them to me. Not wanting to make a fuss I said I’d take them later. Garth, our host, from sailboat, ‘Why Knot,’ set down a glass of water and said, ‘no – take it now…’
I mixed the small packet of white stuff in with some water – it was a rehydration packet Mike purchased in England. I drank the contents and within seconds – and I mean seconds – I felt massively better. The headache instantly disappeared and my energy returned. My whole body went from being hunched over, lethargic and sweaty to sitting upright, energized and not-so-sweaty.
Never in my life have I experienced such an instant result
The following day I drank another rehydration packet – just to be sure – and I felt 100% back to normal. The drink tasted like currant flavored baking powder mixed in water. It wasn’t nice but it was drinkable…
For four days I suffered with dehydration and all I needed the whole time was a bit of salt and sugar!
Since my dehydration experience a couple weeks ago I’ve been telling my story and many people have responded with, ‘wow – I wonder if that’s my problem too!’ It seems like I’m not the only one that’s suffering this year.
Last year we sailed all around Italy, Greece and Turkey and rarely experience 100 F/38 C. This year we’ve had over two weeks of high temperatures and it’s not looking like we’ll have relief soon. That being noted, I thought an article might prove helpful to those like me who have never encountered dehydration.
Looking back it seems silly, but I thought I could carry on as usual regardless of the heat
Did you know that doing anything physical in the hot sun uses as much as 25 times more salt as the same person sitting in air conditioning? And that once you lose required salty body fluids they cannot simply be replaced with just water? That’s why I kept drinking water and I didn’t see an improvement – I also needed the salt and sugar!
What are the symptoms of dehydration?
For minor dehydration, the symptoms include:
Diarrhea, increased thirst, dry mouth, sleepiness, less frequent urination, dark yellow urine, headache, cramps, dry skin, and dizziness. Speaking of dizziness, I was dizzy too – there were a few times when I thought I was going to feint but I put it down to serious fatigue.
When things start getting worse, the symptoms include:
A very dry mouth and skin, very dark yellow or brown urine, loss of skin elasticity, lowered pulse rate, sunken eyes, seizure, generalized body weakness, and even coma. Yes – a coma! All because you don’t have a few VERY COMMON things in your body.
So…what can you do if you think you are dehydrated?
In the States, many people rush out and get Gatorade or an equivalent sports hydration drink. With minor symptoms these drinks might be able to solve the problem, but the World Health Organization (WHO) states that they’re not adequate for truly rehydrating a person due to the fact that they have too much sugar in them.
Instead of using Gatorade, you can find Oral Hydration Salts in most pharmacies and even buy them from Amazon.com. Failing that, you can make a hydration mixture yourself using clean water (if you’re in a place like Mexico don’t use the tap water!), salt and sugar.
Oral Hydration Salts Recipe
Add a half-teaspoon of table salt and 6 teaspoons of sugar into a clean container. Add 5 cups, or 1 litre, of water and stir vigorously until it’s dissolved. Then drink it up!
You can find this recipe on the WHO website here.
While researching information for this article I noted that there’s also a need for potassium. Other websites have various people commenting about adding a thing called, ‘Lite Salt,’ that is half sodium and half potassium. Perhaps if you can find that product it might be worth putting in your galley?
Apparently, too much potassium can be fatal – perhaps that’s why the WHO left it out?!
A seasoned sailor commented on one thread that drinking tomato juice is an excellent rehydration solution due to the inherent potassium in tomatoes in addition to the salt and sugar that’s added to the drink…so perhaps that might be an alternative to drinking salt/sugar water?
What’s important is to realize that you’re dehydrated in the first place
If you’re suffering from diarrhea, headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue and more it’s a possibility. So if you think you’re dehydrated, make the simple solution, drink it and decide for yourself if you feel better. Furthermore, I think it’s a good idea to visit a drugstore or pharmacy and purchase a box of rehydration sachets to have on hand. I know that from now on we’ll have our cupboards stocked with them!
If you have any suggestions on making hydration solutions, other than the recipe listed above, please leave a comment below. And here are some solutions you can find on Amazon.
Gina Caro says
We always have a few packets of Dioralyte on board our boat, just in case. They work a charm. They’re also great for a morning after a night of too much alcohol 🙂
Kim Brown says
Gina – I’ve started drinking one every morning and it makes a difference. We’ve had temps in the 38’s/100’s for weeks now and I seem to sweat the water out of me too quickly…I found some great Italian hydration packed and they’re working very well 🙂
Yep when I was welding salt tabs were necessary at high temp. The world is in high heat with chem poison being sprayed by the ton.
Ivan Bennett says
Kim 40 years ago worked in construction and that was one of the things we always
had on the truck was salt tabs, the first sign of dizziness or light headed ness drink water
and take a salt tab, sit down for a few minutes and then back to work.
Hans kampers says
Interesting post Kim. Thank you
Marci Starkman says
Don’t be too hard on yourself for your self misdiagnosis. 🙂 I’m a nurse and my first thought would have been food poisoning, too. Pedialyte (for kids and adults) is another oral rehydration solution and comes in lots of different formulations; prepared liter bottles, powder packs, and even freezer pops!
Kim Brown says
Yes!! We now have a variety of solutions – Pedialyte being one of them. Thank you for the comments Marci 🙂
You would be hard pushed to overdose on Potassium. Even the tablets you get in health shops are only around 300mg of K. The WHO does have a recommendation which is around 3,500mg per day for an adult – most nutritionists would suggest a touch more. The best source for all potassium is, well, any and all food. If you feel cramps in your lower legs or aching legs or arms that is a good first sign that your potassium is low. Eat veggies, green leaves, piece of bread, all of these contain good amounts of potassium.
Kim Brown says
Thank you for the comments Vivienne 🙂
Actually overdosing on potassium is very easy to do, and quickly life threatening. A normal range is 3.5-5.0. Serious cardiac symptoms can start higher than 5.5. I would advise against potassium supplements in concentrated (pill) form unless prescribed or under the guidance of a nutritionist.
Coconut water is very high in potassium, about 15 times what is in gatorade, but low in sodium.
Vomiting causes more sodium loss, diarrhea causes more potassium loss, both dehydrate you.
I do not advise patients use gatorade or similar to re-hydrate. Gatorade is basically Kool-aid with a few teaspoons of table salt in it. Remember ” Gatorade was created to help athletes by acting as a replacement for body fluids lost during physical exertion.”
Physical exertion means your burning lots of calories, so they need the sugar.
If you have coconut water, regular water, and some broth soup (Hot cup of water and some bullion cubes) you should be able to orally hydrate by liberally taking in equal quantities of all three. Once tolerating solids fruits and veggies are the way to go.
People also mistakenly believe water is the cure all. I have treated many patient over the years who nearly killed themselves drinking too much water, and there are documented deaths from water intoxication.
Kim Brown says
Thank you for adding this. It’s very helpful! Kim
Glen Dobbs says
Very helpful. Thanks.
chris proctor says
FYI; dslmonella produces the same symptoms.+
i found your blod very interesting
j will alwsys kee[ a stock of rehydration packs handy
my son who, one day was badly degydrated from sunburn drank a can of poqwerade: or it might have been energade i’m not sure.
they hand it out to marathon runners here in south africa during the annual 90km COMRADES MARATHON. one doctr i spoke to saig the practise definitely saved lives especially on k=hot days.on some occasions the race is run in over 30 degrees heat.
Far be it from me to say that the WHO is wrong, but, umm, err, the WHO is wrong. It’s really hard to OD on potassium. You have to really make a serious effort to do it. Western societies don’t generally get enough potassium in their diet, and we suffer all sorts of maladies because of it.
I’m a chronic pain patient. I take serious pain pills, but I don’t need so many of them if I can just remember to keep my potassium levels up. Normally that’s 2 bananas a day, but since being on my boat I haven’t been eating them. So, I bought some potassium supplements. They’re only 99mg each. One medium sized banana has over 400 mg of potassium. You do the math…
Some percentage of potassium that you consume is radioactive. If you have a sensitive enough sensor, you can measure it in a banana. If you eat a lot of bananas, you can measure it in you. But you’d have to eat thousands of bananas in a day for the radioactivity level to be significant. There’s a theory out there that the reason the potassium levels are so low in Western guides is the fear that someone would die from radiation poisoning due to potassium and the government would be at fault.
Have a couple of bananas or other sources of potassium every day. Those other sources include salt substitute and potassium pills. But do the math.
Fred D Hollands says
The Canadian Navy had salt pills at all the water fountains throughout their ships.
Kim Brown says
Bananas help regulate potassium.
Exhaustion & Stress can be draining ! Take a short vacation enjoy Sailing come back
refreshed! Provisioning with plenty of known fresh water or obtain distilled water in gal. jugs for consumption & cooking! Hot humid climates increases water needs along with an high energy diet!
James Reid says
Originally from Canada, I moved to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, south of Turkey, about 18 years ago. There is a national drink here and in Turkey, called Ayran. It’s a salty yogurt drink spiced with mint, that in my opinion, tastes like a dogs backside, but it sure cures what ails ya when the temps are are in the 110 to 120 degrees area. The locals love it, and its kept them going through the summer here for a few thousand years. Give it a try next time you are in the hood. My kids enjoy it, and I can gag it down when necessary. Instant relief from your symptoms.
Kim Brown says
Hey James – sounds gross but if it works, it works! I know Cyprus very well – mostly the south but spent some time in the north too. I remember the heat feeling like a hot hair dryer blowing on me. I spent most of my time driving around in a car so I could enjoy aircon. Thanks for the tip 🙂
John Zalesak says
Hey there – I ride bicycles on 50 – 100 mile rides and I sweat a lot. When my electrolytes go a-kilter, my heart does funny things. I have found a company that makes several products for this type of stuff. It is Hammer Nutrition. Personally, I have had real good luck with Endurolytes, Heed and Fizz. They have others but these work in my situation.
Kim Brown says
I’ll have to give that a go. Thank you for the tip John 🙂
Steve Milne says
I’ve always kept dyoralyte, 25 years of Firefighting taught me how easy it is to become dehydrated.
I have a bit of theory about living on a boat, or on land, in a hot countries. Doing so often means you’re cooking for yourself often as not. Many people these days Cook from scratch, (why wouldn’t you with the veg available in the markets in the Med.)
But the modern view on salt, particularly in countries like the UK, is it’s an evil ingredient. This is mainly due to the huge amounts used in processed foods. But it’s essential for the body, especially when you’re sweating profusely losing water, salts and sugars. Not adding a pinch of good salt to foods you cook from scratch could actually be doing you more harm than good. Your body may not actually be getting enough salts and minerals to replace that which it loses through sweating. (Himalayan salt is excellent example.) Although everybody knows drinking enough water is essential. But if you live in hot climates for long periods, so are the mineral salts that you lose through sweat.
Based on what’s been discussed don’t you think Gazpacho is an awesome way to rehydrate, Tomatoes, Water, Peppers, Cucumber it’s got everything you need. It’s my go to dish at lunch on a hot day here in Greece.
Kim Brown says
I love your thinking Steve. When we lived in Italy (on our boat) our Italian friends often had a plate of olive oil with salt in it. You then dipped your bread in it and soaked it up. I agree that you 1. need salt and 2. as a boater don’t get enough. In the modern world we’re trying to avoid salt as it’s in everything but when you live on a boat most things are cooked from scratch. And the Gazpacho sounds lovely. Thank you for commenting. K.
Simon Griffiths says
I recently discovered the benefits of coconut water as a rehydration drink. Doesn’t taste great although when cold it’s not bad and you get used to it, but the benefits are instant feeling better. I recently suffered dehydration after hip surgery. Coconut water definitely helped and has eased symptoms of over-indulging too which in the end robs your body of needed hydration in a big way.
Kim Brown says
That’s a great tip Simon. I bet if you drink it right from the coconut it’s the best… I really need to learn how to crack a coconut open. I’ve lived in the tropics long enough. Thank you! Smiles, Kim
Lilias Lamont says
Glad you are feeling better. It sounds as though you were salt depleted which is why the rehydration salts made you feel better. As a reasonably tasty way of replacing salt loss through the skin, I suggest using one of the sports electrolyte drink tablets you can buy. They come in a huge range of flavours and are conveniently packaged in ‘minimum space’ tubes – ideal for boats. Being isotonic, they are good as a daily drink.
Bananas! They have a well known reputation for containing potassium. However they only contain approx 10 mmol. The recommended adult requirement used to be 50 mmol/l, but this has increased to 90 mmol/l ( good rule of thumb is 1 mmol/kg/day0. There is a summary article on Potassium on the NIH (excellent US source of medical info) website https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK132453/. So good to eat for other reasons but you would have to eat a lot to replace losses.
Lastly ‘flat’ Coca-cola used to be recommended for rehydration in gastroenteritis if you couldnt get hold of any rehydration salts. Coke and similar fizzy drinks are NOT a good idea as research has shown that the quantities of electrolytes are unpredictable (range 0-65mmol/l), and the osmolality varies enormously (range 246 to 2000mmol/l!!). There is an article on this on the NHS (another excellent medical info resource) website. https://www.nhs.uk/news/pregnancy-and-child/flat-coke-for-tummy-bugs-myth/.
Kim Brown says
Wow! Lots of great information here Lilias. Thank you so much! Kim
Kerry Kerridge says
Excellent advice, I’ve made myself ill by dehydration it’s not pleasant. Didn’t realise you can use normal salt. I imagine a water make takes out everything which won’t help
Kim Brown says
Yeah – just normal salt! I tell you I now swear by those electrolyte drops you can buy on Amazon. You add around 5 drops to your water and I can feel a difference in seconds. Thanks for your comments Kerry 🙂