The oddly prophetic 2006 comedy film Idiocracy features an isotonic drink called Brawndo, whose marketing continuously refers to its electrolytes as a miraculous property. Brawndo is revealed in the film to be useless for agricultural irrigation, but yesterday perhaps a couple of Hackaday writers could have used a bottle or two. At the MCH hacker camp, the record heat of a Dutch summer under the influence of global warming caused us to become dehydrated, and thus necessitated a trip to the first aid post for some treatment. We’d done all the right things, staying in the shade, keeping as cool as we could, eating salty foods like crisps, and drinking plenty of liquids, so what had gone wrong?
Perhaps Club-Mate Should Have An Isotonic Version
The answer will probably be obvious to trained observers, we’d become deficient in those electrolytes. Our bodily stocks of sodium and potassium salts had become exhausted by sweat and all that extra water requiring trips to the toilet, so while we weren’t dehydrated in liquid terms we had exhausted some of the essentials to our cellular function.
The symptoms would have been easy to spot given the right training, but at a hacker camp it was too easy to attribute a headache and tiredness to a late night. For me the point at which it became obvious something was significantly wrong came when my thought processes started to slow down and my movement became a lot less easy. I’m a long-distance walker and cyclist, yet here I was walking like an octogenarian. If I’d know what to spot I might also have noticed that I had stopped sweating despite the heat. I found a friend (Thanks Gasman!), and together we made our way to the first aid post. MCH2022 first aiders were very efficient, and I was given a cup of oral rehydration salts which restored me to health in a matter of minutes.
This tale of personal woe is a cautionary one, but perhaps the real interest lies in what really happened. If we have any biochemists in the house no doubt they can expand in the comments, but sodium and potassium salts are essential to our nervous systems, and to our function at the cellular level.
Normally we have plenty at hand from our dietary intake to the extent that we excrete the surplus in our urine, but on our hacker camp field the problem was that we were losing salts through sweating in the heat faster than we could replenish them. The symptoms we were experiencing were the body frantically shutting down non-essential subsystems to keep going.
If Only Every Cure Was This Quick
So what was the miracle cure? Oral rehydration salts are a mixture of sodium and potassium salts plus glucose, which surprisingly doesn’t have a particularly salty taste. It’s a lesson in how quickly we take in water through our intestines, that their effect was so quick. I had enough sodium and potassium in my reserves to walk and think as normal, and I’d learned an important lesson. Eating a few crisps to get salt isn’t enough, on days like that I have to take electrolyte intake seriously, and be aware of the symptoms before they get that bad. Meanwhile I will be packing a few sachets of oral rehydration salts as part of my hacker camp kit, and I suggest you do the same.
Header: Simon Berry, (CC BY-SA 2.0).