Why I Recommend Electrolyte Powders for Hydration
Last updated: August 2023
These days nurses are constantly commenting on how hard it is to get at my veins during bloodwork. My heart rate gets too rapid and sometimes I even feel sick because I'm starting to get dehydrated. Once I even ended up at the ER because I felt so terrible.
It turned out all they needed to was give me some fluids. It should be easy to stay hydrated, but for some reason, it seems harder for me than for other people.
Why am I so dehydrated with ulcerative colitis?
When I'm flaring, the reason behind this is clear. I usually have a lot of diarrhea, so my body is immediately flushing out lots of liquids. But this year I've been lucky enough not to be flaring... So why the dehydration?
I bring this up with my primary care doctor who tells me that the problem might actually be my ulcerative colitis, even in remission. After all, even my baseline "normal" in remission sometimes includes diarrhea or going to the bathroom 3 or 4 times a day.
Low electrolyte levels
This fluid loss also probably explains why my blood tests have been showing low electrolyte levels. I've consistently had low potassium and magnesium, which was likely making me feel sicker. The doctor tells me we should take care of that quickly, since chronically low electrolyte levels can be bad for the body.
"I'm drinking water," I insist when the doctor told me I need to stay more hydrated. "I don’t know what else I can do."
The doctor gives me a serious look. "You might need something more than water. Maybe something like a sports drink."
I'm not a fan of electrolyte sports drinks
This isn't what I wanted to hear. I generally hate the taste of sports drinks. The flavors never appeal to me, and they always seem too sweet. Plus, many of them actually do have a lot of sugar in them, too, and I've been trying to watch my sugar intake since I have a family history of diabetes. Plus, too much sugar can sometimes exacerbate my gut issues.
At the same time, all this dehydration has exhausted me. I have to drink something that isn't just water, or else.
Luckily, my doctor seems to understand why I'm hesitant to chug sports drinks all day. He pulls up his computer and starts Googling around. Finally, he finds a page about electrolyte powders, which I can add to water.
"They have low-sugar ones," he says. "Maybe try this?"
Electrolyte powder supplement
As soon as I get home I hop online and check out the different options more closely. Finally, I find a brand of electrolyte powders that doesn’t have any sugar – but it does contain sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, chloride, and phosphorus. It is $45 for 90 servings, which doesn't seem too bad. It comes in a lot of flavors, and I end up picking out raspberry.
The electrolyte powder shows up relatively quickly, and I start taking a scoop of it in 16 oz of water every day. Immediately, I feel better. My heart rate is slower. Nurses don't have trouble with my veins. I think I might even have more energy.
But there is one problem. I end up with a lot of diarrhea.
Is this an ulcerative colitis flare?!
At first, I think this might be a flare. I panic, but then I realize I'm not seeing blood in my stool. For me, that is the first mark of a flare. So no blood likely means my UC is still under control.
Then I wonder if I'm having an IBS flare? But it can't be that, because I'm not eating anything different than I used to.
Diarrhea from magnesium supplements
Finally, I realize what the problem is. I remember that one time in the ER I was given a magnesium supplement – but I was also told to get ready because I'd likely have diarrhea. Apparently, this is a side effect of extra magnesium intake.
At first, I’m not sure what to do. I don't want to stop taking the supplement, but I also can't live with explosive diarrhea. So I decide to fiddle with the dose. Instead of taking it daily, I start taking it after really hot days when I've been sweating. And instead of a full dose, I often just do a half scoop in 8 oz of water. The diarrhea quickly disappears.
Staying hydrated with ulcerative colitis
All there is now is my body thanking me for that refreshing feeling of being hydrated. My veins are strong and blue under my skin. My heart beats normally, like it has all the time in the world.
I imagine my blood flush with water and electrolytes, rushing around, ready to propel into the world. I laugh at the image – but it's not so ridiculous, not really. Not when I suddenly feel so much better than I did before.
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