Staying well hydrated regularly — with water — is beneficial for a range of bodily functions and mental sharpness, and helps the body minimize joint pain, overcome digestive issues, prevent energy depletion and avoid kidney stones. A new study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health has added a reduced risk for developing heart failure as a likely benefit of good hydration.
The study’s findings, published in the European Heart Journal , indicate that consuming sufficient amounts of fluids throughout a lifetime may also reduce the risk of severe heart problems in the future.
Sandra Chaparro, M.D. , cardiologist and director of the Advanced Heart Failure Program at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute , part of Baptist Health, explains that the new research is a “hypothesis generating study, looking at retrospective data of a large population.” While the data is promising, more studies are needed to confirm the link between good, lifelong hydration and a lower risk of heart failure, she adds.
Heart failure is a chronic condition that develops when the heart does not pump enough blood for the body’s needs. It affects more than 6.2 million Americans, a little more than 2 percent of the population. It is also more common among adults ages 65 and older. Heart failure is a serious condition, but it does not mean that the heart has stopped beating. With about 550,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, heart failure affects millions of people of all ages.
“The researchers were looking for associations and they found one between the amount of sodium level with the risk of thickening of the heart and developing heart failure,” explains Dr. Chaparro. “As the authors mentioned, this is a preliminary study and a randomized, controlled trial will be necessary to confirm the results.”
Researchers analyzed data on more than 15,000 adults, ages 45-66, who had enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study between 1987 and 1989. They shared information from medical visits over a 25-year period. As part of the new study, researchers focused on those whose hydration levels were within a normal range and who did not have diabetes, obesity, or heart failure at the start of the study. About 11,800 adults were included in the final review, and of those, the researchers found, 1,366 (11.56 percent) later developed heart failure.
The study team assessed the hydration status of the participants using clinical measures. They looked at levels of serum sodium, which increases as the body’s fluid levels decrease. Measuring those levels helped identify older adults with an increased risk for developing both heart failure and left ventricular hypertrophy, an enlargement and thickening of the heart, the study states.
Adults with serum sodium levels starting at 143 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L) – a normal range is 135-146 mEq/L – in midlife had a 39 percent associated increased risk for developing heart failure compared to adults with lower levels. For every 1 mEq/L increase in serum sodium within the normal range of 135-146 mEq/L, the likelihood of developing heart failure increased by 5 percent, the study said.
Fluid intake guidelines vary based on the body’s needs, but researchers recommend a daily fluid intake of six to eight cups (1.5-2.1 liters) for women and eight to 12 cups (2-3 liters) for men. Of course, hydration needs may increase for individuals who spend more time outdoors in the type of heat and humidity which are typical in South Florida. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  also provides tips to support healthy hydration.
“Similar to reducing salt intake, drinking enough water and staying hydrated are ways to support our hearts and may help reduce long-term risks for heart disease,” said Natalia Dmitrieva, Ph.D., the lead study author and a researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH.