"One Big Puff Ball"


Anne doesn't like it when her hands and feet swell up in hot weather. She lives in a more southern state, and its summertime---she knows heat. Her hands and legs seem to gets worse when she's exercising. I'm sure many of you can relate to her!

At any temperature, consuming too little fluid can also cause water retention. It also happens when the thermometer rises higher than what your body is accustomed to. One of our MM groupies describes swelling up like, "one big puff ball." She's obviously not a fan of the effect. At first glance, water retention in hot weather doesn't seem to make sense. When it's hot and humid, it seems like you'd sweat off all that extra body water. What's going on?

Water is a critical part of the body's cooling mechanism. When your body heats up from activity, exercise or when temperatures rise---you sweat.  Evaporation of sweat from you skin helps to cool the body.

The human body is a brilliant machine. When it gets hotter, a little safety switch goes on warning of potential danger. The body reacts by holding onto extra water--- like a sponge. In fact, blood plasma (the water part of the blood) can increase 10% when an athlete works out in a hotter environment. The secret is to drink plenty of fluids and to have a little patience. After your body acclimates to the heat and it's sure that plenty of fluids are coming in, your cells will release all that excess fluid-- squeezing out the sponge. Blood plasma volume goes back to normal within a few days as the body adjusts to the heat.

But, don't go over board drinking way too much water. If an extremely high amount is consumed, a potentially life threatening condition may develop called hyponatremia.  In this case, too much water swells up in the cells, causing the electrolytes to become diluted, including sodium and potassium. Normal sodium levels are vital for proper muscle contraction and relaxation, transfer of nerve impulses and kidney function.  When cells are water logged and are abnormally low in sodium, blood volume increases making the heart and kidneys work harder. Brains cells can also swell. Headache, mental confusion, fatigue, convulsions, hallucinations, coma and even death can occur.

To avoid hyponatremia, be sure to consume a small amount of sodium when significantly increasing water consumption. Athletes who work out over an hour and/or in hot, humid environments are encouraged to drink beverages with electrolyte replacement such as Gatorade. This is also recommended when you are faced with anything that may raise your body temperature: higher heat index, fever, etc.  Another way to handle this would be to use a bit more salt on foods, though most Americans consume well over the recommended 2300 mg of sodium each day. Good potassium sources include oranges, tomatoes, bananas, yogurt, dried beans and leafy greens. Eating 5 fruits and veggies a day goes a long way to assure good potassium levels.

Some people find a natural craving toward saltier foods in hot weather. It is possible your body's asking for a bit more salt for electrolyte balance, But be careful as you head for the chips. Most of these salty snack foods offer little nutritional value and a high amount of refined carbohydrate, salt and fat. Definitely not a nutritional powerhouse. Beware, as that old Lay's Potato Chip TV commercial is true for many of us, "Bet you can't eat just one!" A taste leads to a bite, and bite to a few, and an few leads to a pound...right on our stomachs!  Craving something salty?  Try a dill pickle, one of my friends favorite tricks in the heat of the moment! Keep in mind, too much salt makes many of us retain water, too, so don't go overboard.

Bottom line? If you're feeling puffy, relax. Drink plenty of fluids and give your body time to acclimate to hotter temperatures and release the excess body water. If you are sweating continually for more than an hour, sprinkle a little more salt on your broccoli, grab a banana, and be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables along with that water!