Hydration Science Lab Focuses on Providing Evidence of Water’s Importance

May 1, 2017

Undergraduate and graduate students work with Stavros Kavouras in the Hydration Science Lab.
Undergraduate and graduate students work with Stavros Kavouras in the Hydration Science Lab.

When Stavros Kavouras looks at nutritional guidelines published over the past 70 years, he sees what isn’t there – water.

“People say, what do you mean? Everyone knows water is good for health,” said Kavouras, a University of Arkansas associate professor of exercise science. “But if you look at the guidelines issued by the USDA from 1947 to 2015, there is no mention of water.”

Over the years, in all the graphic representations of a nutritionally balanced diet – from circles to the pyramid to slices of plates – the only beverage that appears is milk in the dairy category.

“It is as if drinking water doesn’t matter,” Kavouras said. “Dairy is important, too, but in Asia, an estimated 40 percent of Chinese people are lactose intolerant. No one is allergic to water.”

He has organized students studying exercise science – undergraduates, master’s students and doctoral students – into the Hydration Science Lab, established about a year ago in the College of Education and Health Professions. He believes the formal structure of a lab will help bring awareness to water as an important nutritional component. Student research published in academic journals will carry the lab name in the acknowledgements.

That research done by Kavouras and his students will fill gaps, he said.

“Why isn’t water included in the nutritional guidelines?” Kavouras asked. “The answer is that there are not enough studies to have official guidelines on water, even from such organizations as the (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization). By organizing and funding the Hydration Science Lab, we will bring more awareness and funding to the study of water.”

Improving hydration, or the amount of water available for the body to use to maintain its temperature, remove waste and lubricate joints, enhances both health and quality of life, Kavouras said. Every cell, tissue and organ needs water to work properly. Kavouras’ past research has suggested negative effects of dehydration not only on physical aspects of the body but also on health.

“The thing a lot of people don’t understand is that, if you don’t drink enough water, you will not die, your body will be able to manage but at a cost,” he said. “Under-drinking seems to be associated with glucose dysregulation and the development of diabetes. You may experience cardiac health problems and cognitive impairments, urinary tract infections and kidney stones.”

Twenty-seven students are working in the lab this semester, and the majority of undergraduates are Honors College students required to complete a thesis. Others want research experience, Kavouras said. His only criteria to be a member of the lab is an interest in hydration research, although he can usually tell when a student already has too many time demands to have a valuable experience in the lab. Lab members are running multiple projects at once. Students are trained both in safety procedures and in effective research techniques, including data analysis on special software, and lab skills, including measuring blood biomarkers.

Three of the primary projects:

  • HYBSKUS – Collecting data on what children drink and eat to create a database that can be studied. Hydration biomarkers are being collected for a full 24 hours, rather than a spot check, from 2,000 children and parents. Collecting one urine sample, for example, is like assuming someone ate bagels all day because that’s what the person ate for breakfast, Kavouras said. This study will also produce data on how what parents eat and drink influences their children.
  • HYPERGLU – Examining the effect of dehydration on glucose regulation. In this study, the researchers induce dehydration without reducing water intake or exercising in the heat through intravenous infusion of salty water. When you get thirsty, your body produces a hormone as if you are dehydrated. The study participants are then given glucose to drink to measure glycemic response. The study is important because preliminary results suggest a connection between glucose regulation and diabetes that is triggered by not drinking enough water. It appears the dehydration negatively affects the hormone’s ability to regulate glucose. When animals that developed diabetes and fatty liver disease were treated with water, the conditions reversed themselves, Kavouras said.
  • THOR – Examining the effect of minor dehydration on exercise performance in the heat. This study attempts to keep participants from knowing they are dehydrated to see whether the physical effects are the same as when they are aware. Researchers use a nasal gastric tube to pump body-temperature fluid into the stomachs of the participants, who can’t feel the fluid and so they don’t know if they are receiving fluid. In one trial, fluids being lost while exercising are replaced and in a second trial fluids are not replaced.

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