Q: How does alcohol cause dehydration?—Glenn, Park City, Utah
A: Dehydration occurs when your body loses fluid and electrolytes; common symptoms include fatigue, headache and confusion, and prolonged dehydration may result in more serious health complications. Alcohol causes dehydration because it is a diuretic, which means it increases the excretion of water from the body (you may have noticed that you need to use the restroom more frequently when drinking wine, beer or spirits). Part of what makes alcohol a diuretic is that it inhibits vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone that regulates the kidneys' ability to reabsorb and retain water.
"By inhibiting or blocking [vasopressin], [alcohol consumption] leads to less water retention … exacerbating that dehydration effect," says Dr. Larry Nolan, a primary care sports medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Incorporate water before, during and after [alcohol] consumption to help combat that water and electrolyte loss."
Dr. Nolan also advises patients to take note of their surroundings and how they may impact dehydration: Warmer temperatures and higher altitudes can cause the body to lose fluids more quickly. Consult your physician about making wine a part of your healthy and active lifestyle.—Shawn Zylberberg