|Dehydrated children cared for by the US Navy|
The human body is made up of 50-70 percent water, and human blood plasma is 91 percent water, making up more than half the blood volume. Water plays a role in human cell structure and nutrient transport, as well as maintaining blood pressure, blood pH, and ion balances within the tissues. Dehydration is the result of water loss - the body simply cannot maintain its functions and causes illness. Similar to summer dehydration by sweating, a person who suffers from a diarrheal disease also loses water, but through the intestines and bowel. Worldwide, up to 4 million children die each year from diarrhea.
Oral rehydration salt-sugar solution (ORS) is a simple at-home concoction containing “a pinch of salt, a fistful of sugar, a half liter of water”. The solution was first taught in Bangladesh households 26 years ago, after being tested in a cholera outbreak in 1971.
The oral rehydration solution replaces the lost water, but it also provides ions and minerals that help the absorption process and the maintenance of homeostasis within the body, minimizing the severity of the diarrhea’s effects on the sufferer. Bangladesh has been a beneficiary of the efforts of aid organizations that have been teaching households how to mix the solution, which is sometimes referred to as "Poor man's Gatorade". It has integrated into the regular treatment of diarrheal disease, as well as hydration after exertion in the hot sun, preventing dehydration from other factors. However, the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research still treats 100,000 patients a year, because the ORS is not a cure for what causes diarrhea, only a treatment for dehydration.
Water is an important treatment of dehydration in developed countries, but when electrolytes require replenishment or fresh water is not available, enriched drinks are an option. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks to avoid further dehydration. See the CDC for more information about the importance of water to the human body.