Sunday, March 22, 2009

Irritability and (de)hydration


When you visit India, for social or business purpose, people talk of a 'quaint Indian custom' - people offer the visitor at home or business premise - first, a glass of water.  This is the first act by the host.  All business negotiations or social discussions begin subsequently.  Along with water, in some homes they offer jaggery or sugar to the visitor.  Many wonder why it is so.  In fact, in the traditional business zones like Gujarat, the hosts' stick to this tradition very firmly. Ever wondered why?

India is a tropical country.  One gets thirsty very fast.  Even if the thirst sensation has not yet occured in the individual (it is a physiological fact that a person gets thirsty only when mildly dehydrated) a person should drink water frequently before he gets thirsty - this helps in homeostasis (maintenance of balance in the body).  A person who is sufficiently hydrated is calm, mentally receptive, and of course healthy.

Imagine negotiating with a person who is dehydrated

An individual who is dehydrated, is basically IRRITABLE.  It is unusual to note that although medical science has recognized irritability as an important symptom of many ailments and diseases like anxiety, depression, diabetes, Parkinsonism etc (CLICK HERE), irritability, a very important and overt symptom of dehydration, is rarely mentioned as so in medical literature.  In fact, dehydration is also an underdiagnozed condition although it can cause many health problems like: chronic constipation, headache, visual disturbance, low back pain, chronic joint pain, renal problems, dry or sticky mouth,hypotension (low blood pressure), increased heart rate - respiratory rate - and pulse rate, fatigue, loss of appetite, indigestion, hyperacidity, heartburn, loss of facial and skin glow ....  Severe dehydration causes seizures, unconsciousness, and even death. 

Now that the summer months have just started, more and more people are susceptible to dehydration, due to heat stress.  The mistake that people do is that they wait for the THIRST SENSATION before hydrating themselves.  This is particularly true of children and the elderly. This can be dangerous, because thirst means mild dehydration has already set in.  A unique thing about the thirst sensation is that after a certain point of dehydration, the thirst sensation becomes dull.  This aggravates dehydration as the person does not feel thirsty.

In particular, the elderly and children are more susceptible to dehydration.  The elderly often suffer from weak sensations and loss of appetite, hence they consume less fluids.  Children have relatively more body water content than adults; hence, they are more susceptible to hypohydration or dehydration.   Many people, when thirsty, drink caffeinated beverages (coffee or tea or cola drinks) or alcoholic drinks, however, caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating rather than being hydrating!  In fact, it would be prudent to consume electrolyte energy drinks as an alternative to water rather than consuming alcoholic or caffeinated beverages.

SO THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS THAT ENSURE EVERY ONE (INCLUDING YOURSELF) IS WELL HYDRATED WHEN CONDUCTING BUSINESS OR SOCIAL TRANSACTIONS.  This will help improve the results of the transaction.  So before yelling at the kids or peers or subordinates - check! Are you hydrated and are the other people hydrated?!  Don't offer coffee or tea or cola drinks at first, offer water or electrolyte energy drinks to ensure hydration (remember children voluntarily drink more of flavored waters). 

Irritability and win-lose relationships

Each person while transacting (socially or in businesses) wants to ultimately establish win-win relationships.  Irritability is the enemy of win-win relationships.  TO ESTABLISH WIN-WIN RELATIONSHIPS (in business & social calls), THERE IS NO ROOM FOR IRRITABILITY - and this can be done by ensuring hydration!  That is why traditional business people of India, offer water first to visitors before business talk.  Before social discussions, Indian hosts offer water to guests and then begin the social talk.  It makes sense doesn't it?!

Dehydration, doctors, and medications

Many medications cause dehydration.  These include stimulants like amphetamines.  Many drugs cause loss of appetite and consequently thirst sensation is diminished, which aggravates dehydration & hence irritability.  

GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) which means excessive worrying, is a common diagnosis in general and psychiatric practice.  Irritability is one dimension of GAD.  While treating GAD, one should consider dehydration too since it aggravates irritability.

Dehydration and irritability: two big markets

Pharma and healthcare marketers have a robust opportunity in helping hydrate healthcare consumers and patients.  This requires a lot of 'education', in the first place, since mild dehydration is not seen by doctors as a serious symptom that needs to be treated,  only serious dehydration associated with vomiting, loss of blood or diarrhea, loss of fluids due to heat stress are taken seriously by-and-large by doctors.   However, mild dehydration too needs to be taken seriously (particularly in children, the elderly, and in patients on drugs that can aggravate dehydration).

The main products for hydration are water (Rs. 1800 crores is the packaged drinking water market in India), fruit juice based products, (the branded fruit juice market is reckoned to be Rs. 1200 crores) , and other hydrating fluids (including electrolyte energy drinks - non fruit juice and fruit juice based).  The prescription based hydrating market is around Rs. 125 crores per annum.  There is significant potential to grow the market for oral hydrating fluids through the OTX route (over-the-counter + prescription).

So this summer, offer hydrating fluids to yourself and your acquaintances.  The quaint Indian custom of offering water is very meaningful - ISN'T IT?!

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