How wearables can help monitor your hydration

Jennifer Kukral, Upstream Marketing Physiologist (Sensors), Rockley Photonics explains how wearable devices can enable you to monitor hydration and ultimately lead to a healthier life.

Phoenix can get hot. Very hot. With the rapid expansion of the city, the valley in which it rests has slowly been transformed into an urban heat sink. As a resident of Phoenix, I am very familiar with the threat to human health that extreme heat can pose. In Arizona alone, many people will fall victim to heat-related illnesses this summer, especially people who don’t hydrate properly. Some of them will die. In 2020, there were 520 heat-related deaths in Arizona, and in June 2021, severe heat illness was responsible for 53 deaths in Maricopa County alone during a single week.

But maintaining an adequate level of hydration is essential to lead a healthy life at any time of the year. A person’s hydration status can significantly affect many aspects of their well-being, including mood, physical performance, kidney function, skin condition, and even mental status and cognition. The elderly are at significantly increased risk of dehydration due to cognitive decline, inadequate care, and/or physiological changes associated with aging and co-morbidities, such as poor kidney function and thirst response.

Despite these well-understood health implications, most people in the US still don’t drink enough water. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey studied 4,000 children in the US between the ages of 6 and 19 from 2009 to 2012. The study showed that more than half of children and adolescents failed to stay adequately hydrated .

The problem is similar among adults, especially for “weekend warriors” and amateur athletes who love to stay active. The sad truth is that most people have no idea how to stay well hydrated.

thinking about drinking

It’s easy to say “stay hydrated,” but maintaining healthy and mindful hydration habits can be difficult. Most people who are not high-performance athletes do not have access to the tools or analytics necessary to routinely measure their hydration level to see if their habits are adequate to optimize a state of health and well-being. In fact, aside from fluid analysis, only a few indicators of hydration status are available to the general population.

The feeling of thirst is one. But it’s a lagging indicator, providing only a rough approximation of when to drink, often after it may be a little late. By the time you feel thirsty, your body has probably already lost almost 2% of its fluid, a state of mild dehydration. To maintain adequate hydration, people should drink water well before they feel thirsty. If, for example, you’re in the middle of a long run or bike race and you realize you’re thirsty, then you probably won’t be able to rehydrate quickly. As a result, your performance is likely to suffer.

Other indicators of hydration status are urine color and output. Darker urine and lower output are usually indicative of dehydration. However, these are also imprecise ways of measuring hydration. Even clinical methods for assessing fluid status have limitations. Part of the problem is that each person is different. Some people need more fluids than others. Some people can drink less without becoming dehydrated.

In addition to the immediate effects of dehydration, there can often be long-term consequences. Dehydration has been directly linked to being one of the causes of kidney stones. It also plays a role in the development of certain cardiovascular diseases. Dehydration can also affect cognitive performance and lead to more frequent symptoms of depression and anxiety. A study from Iran showed that adults who drank less water had a higher risk of anxiety and depression than those who drank more water.

There are also very active groups that focus too much on drinking water and tend to overhydrate. This is commonly seen in competitive athletes and military personnel. Also known as overhydration, hyperhydration can reduce the relative amount of sodium and other electrolytes in the blood. This can cause mild problems such as nausea or, in severe cases, such as water intoxication, life-threatening consequences such as seizures or coma.

Whether considering the case of dehydration or hyperhydration, due to individual differences and variability among the 8 billion people on our planet, there are many complicated nuances to understanding and managing hydration.

Measure your hydration for better health

Giving people a way to measure their hydration levels non-invasively and routinely can give them important insights into their hydration status and therefore lead to many significant benefits. But it must be done in a way that is cost-effective and easily accessible to all.

One way to generate this knowledge is through a platform that measures key biomarkers in real time using a wearable device. An emerging technology that could enable this capability is a miniaturized photonics-based sensor that can measure changes in water concentration in the human body non-invasively. This new type of sensor generates multiple laser wavelengths that penetrate the skin at different depths to identify the characteristics of the water spectrum. The sensor exploits the principle that changes in the concentration of components within the skin (eg, collagen, lipids, and water) can be observed by measuring the absorption spectra of the skin. As the water in the dermis decreases, the concentration of solutes increases, which changes the overall absorption spectrum of the skin.

Armed with such hydration assessment capabilities, a wearable device would give people the potential to understand their hydration status in unprecedented ways. For example, with a quick glance at their wrist, people can see that their hydration levels tend to drop and avoid becoming dehydrated in the first place. Alternatively, if they become dehydrated during or after exercise, they could better determine how much they should drink to adequately rehydrate. This type of monitoring solution would benefit not only athletes, but also many other people who may be more susceptible to dehydration, such as office workers who work hard during the day, people who have gotten sick, and people who They live at higher altitudes. People from almost all walks of life could benefit from knowing if they are drinking enough water for their individual needs and body types.

Having a wearable device that can track personal hydration levels is only part of the equation. It should also be easy for people to understand the information being tracked. One tool that could help achieve this is a unique index that simplifies reporting of hydration levels and provides information and recommendations tailored to each person’s individual hydration needs. Solutions like this could help improve our ability to manage hydration. Staying well hydrated, whether at the gym or the office, can help sharpen your focus and improve your overall performance.

Smart devices to drink smart

Tracking your water intake and maintaining healthy hydration isn’t always easy in the hectic lives many people live today. However, given the ability to monitor hydration on a routine basis, smartwatches and other wearable devices could provide useful information to help people improve their lifestyle habits.

Major device manufacturers have already begun exploring the integration of biomarker sensors to track hydration levels. These forward-thinking companies understand that hydration and other healthy behaviors are driven by routine, and that providing contextual cues can trigger “automatic” responses and help people make positive changes to their behavior.

By enabling non-invasive measurement of hydration on a routine basis, a portable biomarker screening solution would have the potential to provide timely recommendations for personal hydration management, recommendations tailored to the specific needs of each individual. Thanks to this knowledge, we could all make better informed decisions about our hydration, health and well-being.

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