Concussions and Dehydration

The topic of concussions with today’s athletes appears in my news/social media feeds multiple times throughout the day. Whether there is an increase in concussions in today’s sports vs years past is debatable, but the increased media coverage on the topic raises some interesting discussions and the awareness is definitely a good thing. In 2013, in the U.S. alone, $14 million1 was spent on concussion research! A 2015 study by NeuroTracker reported these 5 sports with the highest risk of concussions:

  1. American Football
  2. Men's Ice Hockey
  3. Men's Lacross
  4. Women's Soccer
  5. Women's Lacrosse

One week ago, a local football player came off the field after making a play and told his coach something didn’t feel right. Moments later he lost consciousness was being loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital with concussion-like symptoms and underwent surgery to relieve pressure from his brain. As a parent, there are very few things in this world that can be more horrifying to see when your child is injured, but to be hauled off in an ambulance is frightening.

How do we prevent stories like the one above from happening? Do we pull our kids from contact sports? What about the possibility that we are starting our kids too early in contact sports while their brain is in key development stages? Even the experts have a had time determining how many concussions is acceptable. This is a highly debatable topic that I’ll save the for another day. My topic of discussion here has to do with hydration. the U.S. alone, $14 million* was spent on concussion research!

On average, the human body is made up of 60% water. 60%! Every cell in your body needs water. Water regulates body temperature, transports nutrients, flushes toxins, acts as a shock absorber for your brain/spine and lubricates the joints in your body. Water is absolutely essential to human function. This is a HUGE problem for today’s kids and athletes if they are dehydrated. Look around at what most kids are drinking. Starbucks, Red Bull, Monster Energy, Rockstar Energy and “insert brand name here” soda. Very few are drinking what is actually beneficial to their body. Water.

So what does this have to do with concussions?

As a parent, there are very few things in this world that can be more horrifying to see when your child is injured, but to be hauled off in an ambulance is frightening.

In a dehydrated state, nearly all of your body is affected2, including your brain which is 75% water. Dehydration also affects the lubricating fluid (Cerebrospinal fluid) whose primary function is to act as padding between your brain and inside of your skull. In fact, a 2014 Andrews Institute3 report stated that just a 2% decrease in total body hydration can reduce CSF volume by 10%. Reducing this fluid, in combination with shrinking of the brain, means the brain has more space to move around from a blow to the body or head. Athletic companies spend millions doing research for better technology in helmets to make them “safer”, but does all of that padding do us any good, especially if we are dehydrated? Think of it like a child riding in a car with no seat belt and no airbag. In a crash, the car stops but anything not buckled down, like your child, will continue to move until it hits something. Your brain uses the fluid surrounding it much like an airbag, to help prevent it from hitting the skull when you receive a blow.

It’s hard to argue that hydration could play a key role in reducing concussions. I ask of you parents to please monitor your kid’s water consumption. They WILL NOT do it on their own. One of the best ways to help make this a habit is for YOU to do it as well. There is absolutely no negative side effect to drinking water. Yes, there have been cases of people dying to over consumption (water intoxication) of water, but this is in extremely rare cases where people have drank too much water too fast usually in some stupid competition. It is highly unlikely that you will ever over hydrate.

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

There are numerous ways to check if you may be dehydrated, and most likely you are. Being thirsty is NOT a good measure. In fact, by the time you are thirsty, you are late to the game. Use a few of these simples tests and see where you stand:

  1. Urine color. Yes, it’s kind of gross, but you know you look at it. The darker the color your urine is, the more dehydrated you may be.

  2. Pinch your skin. Elasticity of your skin, since your cells are made mostly of water, can also be a good measure to how hydrated you are. Pinch the middle area of the top of your hand. If it stays in a pinched position after you release for more than 5 seconds, that is a sign.

  3. Bad breath. I am assuming your brush your teeth regularly and didn’t just eat a cheesesteak sandwich. A dehydrated state means less saliva in your mouth resulting in more mouth bacteria forming which can cause bad breath.

As a father of 3, I urge you to talk to your kids about hydration and of course, educate yourself. Keep track of how much water you are consuming throughout the day. Kids are glued to their phones, so of course there are apps to track your consumption (see below).  And, if plain water doesn’t cut it, add lemon, limes or cucumber to your water to spruce it up a little.

Water Tracking Apps