Hydration Beverage Hype: Exposé Reveals Rampant Industry Untruths Misleading the Consumer Marketplace
The field of hydration beverage solutions—those ready-to-drink and in both powdered and liquid drink-mix form—has grown exponentially in recent years, and even months. Not surprising considering the financial upside, given the bottled water industry at large is expected to reach US $334 billion by 2023, according to one report.
It’s a brave new beverage world out there, and consumers are being romanced by a deluge of “healthy” drink solutions promising to keep them rehydrated, energized and performing at a high level. Unfortunately, this liquid gold rush is prompting uninspired and, in some cases deceptive, tactics as much of what’s being merchandised in this category is far more adept at hype than efficacious hydration.
“Many companies operating in this space are touting years if not decades-old research, which they themselves were not a part of in any way, and are even resorting to simply emulating and minimally tweaking the World Health Organization’s published oral rehydration ingredient playbook that was published way back in 2006—and then promoting their so-called ‘innovative solution’ in fancy, marketing-friendly packaging,” warns hydration industry authority James Mayo. “Far too little regard is being given to maximally efficacious hydration of the body—various key medical considerations like osmolarity testing ... or generally advancing or innovating around WHO’s original oral rehydration formula.”
So, what’s a consumer to do who’s thirsty for a truly viable rehydration, sports or performance-enhancing beverage solution, but doesn’t want to be duped by their drink of choice?
To answer this question and a plethora of other confusing issues rampant in the sports and rehydration drink industry, Mayo offers the below “drink deception” insights on what consumers need to be mindful of when making Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) beverage buys. As co-founder of SOS Hydration, Mayo understands the importance of science, independent testing and transparency—and helps educate consumers on what it “really” takes to avoid and reverse mild to moderate dehydration while also avoiding extra calories; miscalculated components; useless or unnecessary fillers, preservatives or artificial additives; or general unabashed marketing “fluff.”
Osmolarity, the balance between water and sodium in the body, is a complex challenge that the majority rehydration drinks seem to struggle with. The lower the osmolarity, the faster the body can absorb water, yet many ORT purveyors re reported to maintain levels that are needlessly elevated. High glucose concentrations can increase the osmolarity of drinks. The best ORT beverages will not only have osmolarity levels far lower than the average hydration drink, coconut water, average sports drink and the average soda, but it’ll also be hypotonic, which means it has a lower osmolarity than blood.
Ineffectual Electrolyte Levels
The body is constantly losing fluids and electrolytes throughout the day from sweating and urination, which can be further exacerbated by illness. In order to maintain a healthy body, it is important that we replenish lost fluid on a daily basis. Trying to stick to the daily recommended amount of water and following a healthy diet will help with this, however sometimes water alone is not enough. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, citrate, chloride, zinc and malic acid play a key role in re-hydrating the body. Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals and compounds that play a crucial part in carrying electrical signals from cell to cell, and are imperative for regulating blood pressure and nerve function and helping muscles—including the heart—contract. If electrolytes are imbalanced, these electrical signals can become mixed up which can lead to involuntary muscle contractions and spasms, fatigue, an irregular heartbeat, seizures and even a loss of consciousness. Electrolytes allow the cells in your body to generate energy and help regulate the water levels all across your body—and the correct balance of electrolytes will help the body absorb the water you drink more efficiently.
Sugar-Levels Subverting Hydration
Why pay extra money for excess sugar when what you really need are electrolytes. In truth, only a very small amount of sugar is required to help transport electrolytes and water into the cells as part of the sodium/glucose co-transport system. In fact, this system is most effective when it utilizes one molecule of sugar and one molecule of sodium in combination, which helps create the fastest and most effective way to transport water into the cells for hydration. Even water rehydration and other drinks that do actually claim to utilize the sodium glucose co-transport system have been shown to contain excess sugar to enhance taste, apparently discounting the fact that that this added sugar commensurately increases calorie count and actually undermines cellular H2O absorption.
Beyond the above-stated concerns, too much sugar also leeches sodium and water from the body cells, which can cause dehydration. If there is excess sugar in a drink, even one engineered as a rehydration solution, then you can trigger reverse osmosis. The body’s reverse osmosis process occurs when there is an incorrect balance of sugar to sodium. Sodium always follows sugar and water always follows sodium. In a drink that is correctly balanced (utilizing the sodium glucose co-transport system) then the water and electrolytes optimally flow into the cells. In high sugar drinks there is too much sugar for the quantity of sodium and, as such, sodium and then water is actually leeched from the cells and passed out of the body as urine. This can lead to dehydration—the opposite effect for a rehydration beverage one has spent their hard-earned dollars to purchase.
For clarity, sugar is a fuel and it’s a proven fact that it is not an electrolyte, so consumers seeking a maximized rehydration beverage should seek those with the minimum amount of sugar to help the body best absorb electrolytes and water. However, do bear I mind that zero sugar is a bad thing when it comes to rehydration. Drinks that only contain sodium do not absorb H2O as fast as drinks that contain a small amount of sugar. As mentioned above, the sodium glucose co-transport system relies on a specific ration of one molecule of sugar and one molecule of sodium to transport electrolytes and water effectively into the cells. Drinks that do not contain any sugar then need to rely on collecting glucose (sugar) throughout their journey within the gut. The salt-only drink will eventually get absorbed, but much slower than one that is perfectly balanced.
So, while it’s commendable that that major sports drinks manufacturers are finally attempting to tackle the excess sugar epidemic, their “zero sugar” marketing strategy is creating other problems amid the sports and rehydration beverage category. Not the least of which is the fact that artificial sweeteners, then needed to make the beverage palatable, can contribute significantly to obesity—even more than plain sugar—coupled with the reality that zero sugar actually reduces the H2O absorption.
For all of its importance, proper hydration is a delicate balance to uphold—not surprising give the key considerations above. A shocking few live daily life in a properly hydrated state and certainly not with appropriate consistency. One doctor-driven report revealed that fully 75 percent, a staggering three-fourths majority, of Americans may suffer from chronic dehydration. It went on to underscore that, “Over time, failure to drink enough water can contribute to a wide array of medical complications, from fatigue, joint pain and weight gain to headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure and kidney disease.” Apparently, this is the tip of the proverbial dehydration-induced illness iceberg.
An Institute of Medicine report underscores this fragility of keeping the body duly hydrated, noting, “Over the course of a few hours, body water deficits can occur due to reduced intake or increased water losses from physical activity and environmental (e.g., heat) exposure.” So, a perfectly hydrated body can tip the scales into a dehydrated state in a fairly short amount of time, whether actively (as with exercising), or passively (as with breathing).
“During a normal day, we lose about two liters of water just through breathing, sweat and other bodily functions,” notes board certified internist Dr. Blanca Lizaola-Mayo. “Even while asleep, we can lose over one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of water-weight not just through sweating, but respiration as well. Even air conditioning has drying effects on our body. The health implications of dehydration are vast and can range from mild to severe, including problems with the heart, blood pressure and breathing, headaches and cognitive issues like concentration ... just to name a few. Those who’ve felt that ‘afternoon slump’ should know that dehydration is the number one cause of daytime fatigue. And, it’s important to understand that when we first start to sense thirst, we are already close to two percent dehydrated.”
For its part, Mayo’s own company SOS Hydration offers a medically-developed, rigorously-tested and researched electrolyte replacement rehydration drink mix formula proven to promote rehydration comparable to an I.V. drip, helping the body rehydrate fully three-times faster than by drinking water alone. And, the flavorful, powder-based SOS drink mix can be used to replenish the body with highly effective fluid absorption no matter the conditions and without causing gastrointestinal distress. Seems it would be hard, and perhaps impossible, to find a more effective OTC ORT solution than that.
“Not many companies have been willing to independently test their product for fear of failure,” James said. “Since day one, SOS has not only followed proven rehydration guidelines set by leading organizations, but has also put our product formulas up for independent research so that we can base our claims on fact rather than self-promotional rhetoric. One need only review the ‘How does SOS Compare’ page of our web site to appreciate the comprehensive suite of reasons putting our formula in a scientific league of its own. We want consumers to fully vet us against our competitors as well as published scientific standards so they can truly understand appreciate what sets up apart and makes our product worthy of their hard-earned dollars.”