I start today’s post with a legend.
The legend of how the human race came to be:
Once upon a time there were only two families in the world. Of the two families only one family’s descendants exist today. Both families had moms with particularly strong instincts. These instincts involved things normal in today’s world, but less normal at the time as there were only two families. Some of the strongest instincts included saying things like, “You should bring a jacket ”, and, “You won’t have room for dinner.” These same moms also had strong instincts for finding lost things and hearing snide comments said under your breath, but not things yelled across the house.
Family 1’s mom had all of these qualities and also had a strong instinct of drinking water. Every day Mom one would have her kids drink a lot of water.
Family 2 also had a mom whose instincts were those mentioned above, and also included drinking sugary sports drinks with electrolytes in addition to water.
Because of the cruel world known as natural selection, family 1 drank too much water, suffered Hyponatremia, and died.
Family 2 drank sugary electrolytes and survived. Their descendants populate the earth today.
If you don’t believe the story’s existence, you can take a look at its original source found here.
Like all legends and education stories, that story escalated quickly in order to teach us a valuable lesson. Drinking water is necessary and healthy, but it is possible to go a little too crazy without electrolytes.
Hyponatremia is a condition where the body runs out of electrolytes. It can happen for many medical reasons such as hormone imbalances and other health concerns. For the common hiker it can be caused by drinking too much water without any electrolyte replenishment. Its important to stay hydrated and maintain electrolyte levels especially while hiking it hot conditions.
In extreme conditions it can be fatal. In less extreme conditions it sounds very similar to less extreme cases of altitude sickness. It causes things like:
Hyponatremia also mirrors more extreme altitude sickness symptoms:
And a few unique symptoms:
Is it altitude sickness or hyponatremia?
Both altitude sickness and hyponatremia can be very serious, so it is unhelpful that the symptoms appear similar. In my research of altitude sickness, the first treatments once symptoms start to manifest is to take a break and most importantly stop moving upwards. That break sounds like a great time to replenish with electrolytes and clear any confusion between the two conditions.
If those symptoms persist, or get worse during/after that break, then it is time to move on to step two which is go down to a lower altitude.
Real life story time
Last summer I hiked Angels Landing at the end of June. It was 104 degrees outside. About 0.5 miles from the end of the trail we came across a young woman who was extremely dizzy and nauseous. She was sitting on the trail taking a bit of a forced break. She explained her symptoms above, and after some questions we found that she had only brought water with her, no electrolytes or food. While we only had water to share (no gatorade at the time), we also made sure to share granola bars we had with us to give her some sodium. After a little bit of a break she started to feel better and was able to walk the rest of the way out with us.
But.. But sugar
Some drinks definitely have a lot of sugar. I just saw this horrifying physical representation of how much sugar is in a regular gatorade bottle. No fear! There are sugar free versions. For example Propel makes a sugar free alternative. Other brands may as well. While fake sugars are controversial in the nutrition world, most people believe that sugar free alternatives are better than the sugar versions if taken regularly.