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Does Dehydration Increase an Athlete’s Risk for Concussion?

Dehydration risk is higher for athletes participating in intense sports. But does dehydration heighten the risk for concussion?

That’s a question researchers from the University of Windsor have been exploring recently. At Experimental Biology 2014, an annual conference for more than 10,000 scientists, the research team presented their preliminary findings.

The conclusion? Athletes may, in fact, face a greater risk of concussion when dehydrated. BUT the results weren’t definitive, and lead researcher J. Craig Harwood, speaking for the team, said that more research needs to be conducted.

Here’s How They Came to Their Hypothesis

Dehydration, even mild cases, causes a reduction of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain.  For example, some studies have shown that even 2-percent dehydration, which is often signaled by the feeling of thirst, leads to significant reduction in CSF levels. And CSF is important for protecting the brain.

Inside the skull, CSF helps cushion the brain during hard hits and blows.  Therefore, the researchers hypothesized, it would seem that dehydrated athletes suffer more concussions.

Unfortunately, finding conclusive evidence was a challenge for Harwood and the rest of the team.

Looking at data on 420 concussions suffered in NCAA football games between 2008 and 2012, the researchers tried to see if extreme game-time weather – which would heighten the risk for dehydration – led to an increase in concussions.  The problem, though, was that NCAA football is played in the fall, and therefore, extreme weather isn’t likely. Plus, the hydration status of these athletes hadn’t been measured, and the majority of NCAA athletes are well-conditioned for games.

More Research Is Needed

Although the University of Windsor study didn’t find conclusive evidence, the need for proper hydration in sports is still clear. For instance, several studies have linked dehydration with an increased risk for minor injuries like cramps, strains and sprains. And of course, dehydration can lead to serious conditions like heat exertion and heat stroke.

In the meantime, we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground on any follow-up studies, as future research on the subject has some broad implications for sports safety at all levels. (On a related note, we’ve written about youth sports safety and sports hydration in the past, if you want to read more).

For athletes interested in hydration, Drip Drop is an excellent choice. Not only does it pack in 2-3 times the electrolytes of popular sports drinks, with a third the calories, but a recent study concluded that Drip Drop leads to greater water retention and swift absorption.

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