Dehydration causes your brain to swell, research says

You must be very well aware of the potential benefits of drinking water! Water is crucial to life. If there is no water, there will be no life literally. Low levels of water may result in Dehydration which imposes a number of harmful effects on our body and mind.

Recently, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology reported that dehydration is harmful to our brain. The respective study reports that dehydration causes parts of your brain to swell. Thus, it negatively impacts cognitive functioning in an organism. The study was published in the journal Psychological Reports. The researchers looked into the effects of dehydration on the human body when coupled with heat and physical activity.

Dehydration or deficiency of water occurs when a living body loses more fluid than it intakes. Normal and usual body functions like urinating, perspiring, crying, and even breathing contribute to fluid loss. Dehydration is often characterized by,

  • Bad breath
  • Dry skin
  • Headaches
  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness

Mindy Millard-Stafford principally investigated the study. She is a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences. Along with her team, Mindy aimed at teasing out whether exercise and heat stress alone have an impact on your cognitive function and study the effect of dehydration on top of that.

The researchers observed 13 volunteer participants for the study. The volunteers were subjected to tedious repetitive tasks. They were asked to push a button whenever they see a yellow square on the monitor. The yellow square would appear irregularly, switching randomly after intervals. The task continued for about 20 minutes straight. To test their responsiveness, the participants underwent the same task on three separate occasions which included,

  1. Relaxing and staying hydrated
  2. Physical exertion, heat exposure and staying hydrated
  3. Physical exertion, heat exposure, without hydration

Before completing the tasks, the participants underwent a strenuous activity. However, the tasks were carried out in air-conditioned rooms. The researchers found that even after just relaxing, the performance of the participants reduced over time.

In addition, Millard-Stafford stated that they found a “two-step decline.”

  1. The heat and physical exertion had a negative impact on the test subjects’ performance, even without being dehydrated.
  2. With dehydration, the effect was doubled. The test subjects made even more mistakes after a fluid loss.

The human brain consists of a network of fluid-filled cavities called ventricles. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the ventricular segments of the participants. The results showed that exercise, sweating and drinking water caused contraction of the ventricles. On the other side, when the participants exercised, sweated and did not drink water, the ventricles expanded.

The structural changes were remarkably consistent across individuals, however; they have had nothing to do with the performance of the individuals. The researchers also observed that neural firing patterns change during dehydration.

Thus it was concluded that dehydration causes parts of the brain to swell and makes it more difficult to carry out repetitive tasks that require attention to detail.

How much water is enough?

Over-hydration is just as bad as dehydration. Thus, it is necessary to know what is the recommended amount of water intake for a sound health. It is necessary to maintain the right balance between water and blood sodium. Otherwise, situations like hyponatremia or water intoxication occur.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, a healthy adult on average, living in a temperate climate, should drink around 2.7-3.7 liters of water.



Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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