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Another Reason Why Women Can Retain Water

May 14, 2000 | 19,971 views
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When runners collapse or get sick at the end of a long race, it seems logical to give them fluids. Sometimes, however, water is the last thing these athletes need. All had taken in too much water during their races, causing sodium levels in the blood to drop. From there excess water is absorbed into blood and fluid builds up in the brain. Eventually, fluid accumulates in the lungs, and athletes become breathless and nauseated.

When runners collapse or become ill, the natural assumption may be that they are having a heart attack. Yet, rather than being a sign of heart attack, fluid build-up in the lungs -- called pulmonary edema -- may signal brain swelling.

The investigators describe the cases of seven marathoners who collapsed and had nausea and vomiting after their races. When brain scans revealed swelling, six of the patients were treated with an intravenous solution containing high amounts of sodium -- a water-depleting treatment that is directly the opposite of the low-sodium solutions that runners may receive if they are misdiagnosed. The seventh patient, who was not diagnosed with brain swelling, later died; an autopsy revealed that there had indeed been fluid on the brain.

Five of the patients were female, suggesting that women may be more prone to water intoxication and its effects on the brain and lungs. All seven had a history of using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- painkillers that include aspirin. These drugs can block the excretion of water from the body. Runners who become breathless and nauseated after drinking large amounts of water during a race should go the hospital and doctors should check blood sodium levels.

Annals of Internal Medicine 2000;132:711-714


Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Having been a long distance runner for over thirty years I found this report particularly interesting. There is no question that running is one of the most time efficient exercises. The last marathon I ran was ten years ago, and I am convinced that it is a very unhealthy and generally unbeneficial thing to do for health. However, if done wisely it can lead to an improvement in health, but one must make certain that high levels of antioxidants are used. One that is particularly helpful, that many people may not be aware of it alpha lipoic acid. A dose of 300 mg before the exercise is a good starting dose.

There are several pearls from this study, which include the observation that the runners who died from water intoxication had taken nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. There are large numbers of these medications available over the counter now (aspirin, Advil, Motrin, etc.) These drugs can be particularly dangerous in long distance running and also should be considered as a possible cause for those women who are experiencing water retention. These medications should be banned from anyone participating in an endurance event as the risk for serious or lethal injury is far to high.

The other useful bit of information is for the medical volunteer help at these events to actually consider the exact opposite of what one would expect in an endurance event, overhydration, and fluid swelling in the brain, as a cause of illness in those who collapse during the event.

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