Human Brain Has Coping Mechanism for Dehydration

FRIDAY, July 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The human brain can preserve oxygen to protect itself from the effects of dehydration, a new study finds.

Although dehydration significantly reduces blood flow to the brain, researchers in England have found that the brain compensates by increasing the amount of oxygen it extracts from the blood.

"This research has helped us understand a lot more about how the human brain responds to extreme exercise in extreme conditions," study first author Steven Trangmar, a researcher at Brunel University, said in a university news release. "We can now see that blood flow to this vital organ is significantly affected by dehydration. But we can also see that this is when the brain kicks in, preserving its own oxygen consumption to ensure it sustains its function."

This coping mechanism is likely what enables athletes who become dehydrated during exercise to keep going. The study authors cautioned, however, that their findings should serve as a reminder of the importance of proper hydration, noting that getting enough fluids is essential for athletes who want to maintain peak performance.

"These findings show that the brain has remarkable ways of protecting itself from extreme circumstances, however they also clearly substantiate the recommendation that people should ingest fluids during exercise to help optimize physiological function and performance," Jose Gonzalez-Alonso, a professor of exercise and cardiovascular physiology at Brunel University, said in the news release.

In conducting the study, the researchers inserted catheters in the brachial artery and internal jugular vein of 10 experienced male cyclists. Using the catheters and Doppler ultrasound technology, they measured the blood flow of the cyclists as they rode a bike to exhaustion in heat.

As they became dehydrated, the cyclists developed reduced body mass, brain blood flow and ability to exercise, as well as an increase in their internal body temperature.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Physiology.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips on how to prevent dehydration.

SOURCE: Brunel University, news release, July 23, 2014

Related Articles

Learn More About Sharp
Sharp HealthCare is San Diego's health care leader with seven hospitals, two medical groups and a health plan. Learn more about our San Diego hospitals, choose a Sharp-affiliated San Diego doctor or browse our comprehensive medical services.

Health News is provided as a service to Sharp Web site users by HealthDay. Sharp HealthCare nor its employees, agents, or contractors, review, control, or take responsibility for the content of these articles. Please read the Terms of Use for more information.