How to stay hydrated during cancer treatment

How to stay hydrated during cancer treatment

Staying well-hydrated is essential for good health and it’s especially crucial if you’re going through cancer treatment, says Jeanice Skousen, MDA, RDN, LD, a dietitian at Piedmont Athens Regional.

“Sixty percent of the human body is water,” says Skousen. “You need water to help regulate your body temperature, maintain healthy skin and joints, produce important bodily fluids like saliva, and transport nutrients throughout your body.”

How to know if you’re dehydrated

Dehydration occurs when you take in fewer fluids than you lose. While it’s natural to lose water through normal bodily functions like sweating and going to the bathroom, cancer treatment side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, fever, sweating and hyperventilation can increase your fluid needs. Proper hydration is also essential if you’re receiving a nephrotoxic chemotherapy, she says.

Skousen says the following are signs of dehydration:

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Crankiness

  • Dry skin

  • Thirst

  • Constipation

  • Dark yellow to amber-colored urine (ideally, you want pale yellow urine, which indicates that you’re properly hydrated)

She also notes that older adults undergoing cancer treatment are more likely to become dehydrated since a person’s sense of thirst often declines with age.

How to stay hydrated during cancer treatment

“We always hear the recommendation to drink eight glasses of water per day, but that’s the minimum for most people,” says Skousen. “The National Academy of Medicine recommends 11 cups of water per day for women and 16 cups of water per day for men. This can include fluid we get from our foods as well.”

She recommends the following tips to stay hydrated:

  • Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up each morning.

  • Drink a glass of water at least an hour before bed.

  • Sip water throughout the day—ideally a cup every one to two hours.

  • Keep a water bottle with you to remind yourself to stay hydrated.

  • Limit alcohol and high amounts of caffeine since both types of beverages can be dehydrating. Moderate amounts of daily caffeine intake (around 250 to 300 mg per day for healthy people, or the amount in two to three cups of coffee) are fine as long as it doesn’t aggravate chemotherapy side effects.

“Avoid waiting until you’re thirsty to take a drink,” says Skousen. “Being thirsty can be a sign that you’re already dehydrated.”

If you’re severely dehydrated, drinking an electrolyte drink like Pedialyte or Gatorade can replenish fluids and electrolytes, she notes. You may need an electrolyte drink if you:

  • Are unable to drink enough fluids throughout the day because of cancer treatment side effects like nausea and vomiting.

  • Have low blood pressure.

  • Feel dizzy or weak.

  • Have dark urine.

“Electrolyte drinks are generally safe if you’re going through cancer treatment, but it’s a good idea to check with your physician or dietitian first,” she says. “Some over-the-counter electrolyte supplements can contain additional vitamins and herbs that may interfere with cancer treatment.”

Foods that support hydration

“While hydrating foods aren’t a substitute for drinking water, eating water-rich foods can support hydration,” says Skousen. “According to some population surveys, the average person meets 20 to 30% of their fluid needs through their foods like fruits, vegetables, soup, yogurt and milk.”

She recommends hydrating fruits and vegetables like:

  • Watermelon

  • Strawberries

  • Lettuce

  • Cucumber

  • Zucchini

  • Tomatoes

  • Spinach

  • Celery

  • Baby carrots

To incorporate water-rich foods into your diet, try these tips:

  • Freeze fruit like cubed watermelon and berries for a fun summer treat.

  • Blend fruit and 100% juice and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays or popsicle molds.

  • Enjoy sliced raw veggies with a yogurt-based dip for a hydrating snack.

  • Make a smoothie with fresh fruit, the milk of your choice and yogurt.

  • Add fresh fruit and herbs to your water. Try lemon, orange, lime, cucumber, frozen berries, mint or basil.

With these tips, you can stay well-hydrated and nourished, particularly during the hot summer months. Check out more nutrition tips from Cancer Wellness experts.

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