Is staying hydrated linked to healthy ageing? 

Is staying hydrated linked to healthy ageing? 
© shutterstock/Kateryna Onyshchuk

New findings illuminate a link between staying hydrated and healthy ageing, which includes a reduced risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart and lung disease. 

A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study has revealed that staying hydrated appears to be healthier, developing fewer chronic conditions such as heart and lung disease, along with living longer than those who may not get sufficient fluids.  

The researchers used data from over 10,000 to analyse hydration levels and ageing over 30 years. The findings were published in eBioMedicine.  

Staying hydrated can reduce the risk of health conditions

Health data from 11,255 adults were analysed for links between serum sodium levels which increase when fluid intake is reduced, and various other indicators for health. They found that adults with serum sodium levels at the higher end of a normal range were more likely to develop chronic conditions and show signs of advanced biological ageing than those with serum sodium levels in the medium range. Adults with higher levels were also more likely to die at a younger age.  

“The results suggest that proper hydration may slow down ageing and prolong a disease-free life,” said Natalia Dmitrieva, PhD, a study author and researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH.   

This new research builds upon data published in March 2022, which found a link between higher ranges of normal serum sodium levels and increased risks for heart failure. Both findings used data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities(ARIC) study, which includes sub-studies involving thousands of Black and white adults from throughout the United States.  

Analysing hydration levels and healthy ageing

The researchers looked at the information shared by study participants in five medical visits –  the first two when they were in their 50s, and the last when they were between 70-90. To allow for a fair comparison between staying hydrated and health outcomes, the researchers excluded adults with high levels of serum sodium at baseline check-ins or with underlying conditions.  

They evaluated staying hydrated using serum sodium levels and biological ageing, which was assessed through 15 health markers. This included factors, such as systolic blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, which provided insight into how well each person’s cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic, renal, and immune system was functioning. They also adjusted for factors, like age, race, biological sex, smoking status, and hypertension.   

The team found that adults with higher levels of normal serum sodium with normal ranges falling between 135-146 milliequivalents per litre (mEq/L) – were more likely to show signs of faster biological ageing. This was based on indicators like metabolic and cardiovascular health, lung function, and inflammation. 

Furthermore, adults with serum sodium levels above 142 mEq/L had up to a 64% increased associated risk for developing chronic diseases like heart failure, stroke, atrial fibrillation and peripheral artery disease, as well as chronic lung disease, diabetes, and dementia. Conversely, adults with serum sodium levels between 138-140 mEq/L had the lowest risk of developing chronic disease.  

The findings do not prove a causal effect, the researchers noted. However, randomised, controlled trials are necessary to determine if staying hydrated can promote healthy ageing, prevent disease, and lead a longer life. The associations found in this study can still inform clinical practice and guide personal health behaviour.  

“People whose serum sodium is 142 mEq/L or higher would benefit from evaluation of their fluid intake,” Dmitrieva said. She noted that most people can safely increase their fluid intake to meet recommended levels, which can be done with water as well as other fluids, like juices, vegetables and fruits with high water content. The National Academies of Medicine, for example, suggest that most women consume around 6-9 cups (1.5-2.2 litres) of fluids daily and for men, 8-12 cups (2-3 litres).   

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