Over the past few weeks of very cold weather in New York City, I find myself feeling out of sorts walking out in the street. It is not just that it is frigid cold- I felt more fatigued and lightheaded than usual to the point that there was a real fear of losing my balance and falling down in the street. At the same time my thoughts seemed irrational and somewhere in my mind I did not believe that these fears had a basis in truth. Although I must say there were moments in believing that the worst was on its way. Many of these thoughts made me feel more anxious and out of control. During the course of the day, I also noticed more headaches and at night more muscle spasms. Something just did not piece together.
For the life of me I could not figure out what was going on until one night barely making it to a local restaurant, having to stop and start on my way, fearing that I was going to fall down, I drank a glass of water, then another glass, until four glasses later. Could I have been dehydrated, but isn’t dehydration something reserved for the summer months?
After some research I discovered that dehydration is more common than imagined during the winter. It is not just about the dry air and the dehydrating effects of indoor heating although these are indeed factors. It turns out that in cold weather our thirst response is diminished considerably. When it is cold our blood vessels constrict to conserve heat and maintain body temperature. The body registers that it is hydrated when in reality it is not.
Drinking water that night in the restaurant and forcing myself to hydrate the next day was re-vitalizing. I was more energetic, focused, bright-eyed, and did not have that woozy feeling walking in the street, waiting for the fall. I was not foolish either to spend too much time out in the cold either.
So instead of saving those words for summer- “stay hydrated”- we need to make it a winter mantra as well. The key is to keep drinking in small amounts throughout the day even if you are not thirsty since the body does not always know it needs water. It is registering that all is well, but in reality we have to take charge and quench our thirst in the absence of thirst signals.
It may feel strange at first, drinking without feeling thirsty, but you will reap the benefits. Try to add some juicy fruits to your winter diet. I am finding that frozen berries are high in water content and a delicious treat served as small portions – a few tablespoons or so – throughout the course of the day. And if water doesn’t move you, flavor it a little bit with lemon or lime. I having been adding tart cherry juice concentrate, just a teaspoon and no more than a tablespoon to some of my glasses of water and like the taste. But the taste of tart cherry juice is not for everyone. It does have some added benefits in that it is known to fight inflammation and to support sleep as it contains melatonin and tryptophan, our body’s natural sleep aids.
All in all, a good ending to some miserable winter days and nights!
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
Photo- June Rousso