Heart failure is a potentially fatal chronic condition that occurs when the heart muscle no longer pumps blood as well as it should. This can cause blood to back up and fluid to accumulate in the lungs, leading to shortness of breath and swelling in the lower limbs. The good news? Research suggests that there are several ways you can lower your risk of heart failure, including getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. Now, experts are sharing an even simpler way to lower your risk, by drinking one beverage daily. Read on to find out how easy it is to slash your risk of heart failure, as well as another serious heart condition.
Experts are currently exploring the modifiable risk factors that influence our heart health. In March 2022, a team from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) published a study in the European Heart Journal which concluded that staying adequately hydrated could significantly reduce one’s risk of heart failure.
The team analyzed data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, which centered on a cohort of individuals between 45 and 66 years old. They looked at the relationship between serum sodium levels—a metric often used to identify dehydration—and heart failure risk.
The study concluded that “Heart failure risk was increased by 39 percent if middle age serum sodium exceeded 143 mmol/L [millimoles per liter], corresponding to one percent body weight water deficit.” According to the Mayo Clinic, a “normal” serum sodium level typically falls within the range of 135 and 145 mmol/L, meaning even levels that are technically within an upper-normal range can potentially cause a problem.
The team also observed a connection between dehydration as measured by serum sodium levels and a coronary condition known as left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). According to the Mayo Clinic, LVH occurs when the wall of the heart’s main pumping chamber thickens, resulting in higher blood pressure and poor pumping in some patients. “Left ventricular hypertrophy puts you at higher risk of congestive heart failure and irregular heart rhythms,” the health organization warns.
According to the NHLBI study, being dehydrated throughout middle age could have serious heart health implications later in life. Similarly, those with high serum sodium levels as seniors were also at notably heightened risk. The researchers found that in patients aged 70 to 90 years old, having a serum sodium level between 142.5–143 mmol/L was associated with a 62 percent increased risk of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). Having an even higher serum sodium level above 143 mmol/L was associated with a shocking 107 percent increased risk, the study said.
Since the study’s findings suggest that your heart stands to benefit from staying hydrated, you may be wondering just how much water you’ll need to drink to slash your risk. The answer may surprise you.
Citing statistics from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the Mayo Clinic says that men require about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day, while women require about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) a day.
“Similar to reducing salt intake, drinking enough water and staying hydrated are ways to support our hearts and may help reduce long-term risks for heart disease,” Natalia Dmitrieva, PhD, the lead study author and a researcher for the NHLBI said via press release. Gradually increasing your water intake with your doctor’s help could make a major impact on your heart health.
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If you’re not sure whether you’re routinely dehydrated, your doctor can check your serum sodium levels by doing a simple blood test known as a basic metabolic panel. This can also measure your glucose, potassium, calcium levels, and more, and may become a more useful tool as you age.
That’s because while in most healthy people, high serum sodium levels will trigger thirst, older individuals may not get the same signals. “Older people don’t sense thirst as much as they did when they were younger. And that could be a problem if they’re on a medication that may cause fluid loss, such as a diuretic,” Julian Seifter, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School wrote for Harvard Health Publishing.
If you’re concerned that you could be routinely dehydrated, talk to your doctor. A small change to your daily drinking habits could make a big impact on your heart health.