Each week, OMRF Vice President of Research Dr. Rod McEver opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
My son is attending a summer program in a place that is long on hot weather and short on air-conditioning, so he’s doing a lot of sweating. The program director, who is not a doctor, recommended that everyone in the program (all college-age and older) take potassium and magnesium supplements to replace minerals they’re losing in their perspiration. Is this sound advice?
Dr. McEver Prescribes
Our body produces sweat to cool us. Technically, it’s not the sweating itself but, rather, the evaporation of that liquid from our skin that helps regulate our core temperature. Regardless, the net effect of sustained perspiration is primarily loss of fluid.
So, the most important measure for dealing with sweat is to replace the fluid we lose. We want to do this on a one-to-one basis, and an easy way to check is to weigh ourselves first thing each morning. Although we all generally like to see our weight go down, sweat loss is the exception: Strive for constancy from one day to the next.
Generally, water is the most effective fluid replacement. Carbohydrates in the form of sugars can inhibit our ability to absorb liquid, so if you opt for juices or even sports drinks, you’ll still want to drink lots of water in addition.
It’s true that in sweat you also lose essential minerals: mostly sodium, but also potassium, magnesium and calcium. However, those minerals can be replaced simply by the foods we eat.
I don’t need to tell you where to find sodium, as it’s in countless prepared foods. Milk products provide not only calcium but also potassium, which we can likewise find in bananas and numerous other fruits. Whole-grain breads and cereals are rich in magnesium.
As with many vitamins and minerals, though, too much can be a bad thing, with excessive levels leading to sometimes dangerous side effects.
Unless a health care provider specifically prescribes potassium or magnesium supplements, steer clear. Even under the sweatiest conditions, your son – and all of us – can get what we need through a balanced diet.
Do you have a health query for Dr. McEver? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be answered in a future column!