What a common nursing note – particularly after surgery or during long periods of illness, people often do not feel like eating or drinking much. So why do nurses encourage their patients to drink fluids?
Our bodies are made up of 70% dihydrogen-monoxide, hydroxyl acid more commonly known as: water. Water is comprised of two hydrogen (a component of acids, hence hydroxyl acid) and one oxygen molecule. Atoms have gaps where they can bind to other atoms with gaps called valencies. Oxygen has two valencies, and each hydrogen atom with a valency each, bind to the oxygen molecule like so:
So what does this little molecule do in our body? Water is vital for cells: it fills up our blood and helps transport oxygen, it helps us eliminate waste products, cool us down, protect our wounds, keeps our organ tissues hydrated, aids in digestion and many more examples. Water is used for every function in our body and is transmitted from the vascular spaces and extracellular to the intercellular spaces via osmosis.
About keeping hydrated
At the cellular level, water is part of the vital process of adenosine triphosphate [ATP]. ATP could be nicknamed the fuel of our cells, or their molecular currency: it is intracellular chemical energy. Once we run out of fuel, the engine stops without ATP, our cells shut down and we die. ATP is an unstable molecule in water, and when it comes into contact with H20, it becomes adenosine diphosate [ADP], releasing energy, shown in the equation below:
ATP + H2O → ADP + Pi
During illness we can easily become dehydrated as our body uses excess water for mucous production, sweats from fever, expels vomit or passes water through the bowels. For our cells to repair properly after surgery, we need to help fuel them by providing them with water. This is why it is important to recognise dehydration early, and promote a smooth recovery.
It is recommended to drink cool fluids, taking small, frequent sips. Having small amounts at a time can help decrease nausea and give your body a steady intake. You could also try having food that has high water content, such as watermelon, junket pudding, cucumber or jelly. Though conventional jellies might be high in sugar, there are some low sugar options available. My personal favourite jelly trick is to set fresh fruit, such as lychees and pears into vanilla jelly.
A clever idea
If you are having problems with keeping hydrated while recovering because of vomiting or diarrhoea, get a hold of some electrolyte iceblocks. Electrolyte iceblocks provide water, as well as essential electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, which can be lost with dehydration. They come in a variety of flavours (cherry, lemon-lime, orange, grape and berry), as well as sugar free options. NB: always follow the directions on the packet and never exceed the recommended daily limit.
Check out our dietitian Belinda Elwin’s article about the importance of maintaining adequate water intake and keeping hydrated.