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Like I have said in my columns about alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), nothing about the respiratory disease is anywhere near straightforward or black and white. I think a reason I know this is because of how my body acts and reacts in the summer. During the summer, my need for electrolytes hits the roof.

I know it’s not just all in my head because my nurse has said the same thing. It’s as if our ability to absorb those nutrients is somehow impaired. Either that or it’s just impaired lung function, perhaps both at the same time.

At first, when someone suggested the idea of drinking extra electrolytes, I dismissed it a little bit because I didn’t think it would be worth the money. I know now what it does for bouts of dizziness, anxiety, and dehydration that comes around this time of year.

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I have noticed during the summer, that if I don’t drink my electrolytes in high amounts, I may not be able to even drive my vehicle. It may be related to other issues, but I am pretty certain that AATD makes it a little worse; it always seems to affect my breathing when my electrolytes are low.

The humidity during the summer is challenging. It seems that when I go from a climate-controlled environment to a hot, humid environment, it doesn’t turn out well. Of course, everyone is different in what their electrolyte needs are, but I find that I need about one bottle of standard electrolyte drinks per day. I like them in the morning as that is when my needs are highest (probably due to having low blood pressure in the morning). 

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Not all of these drinks are created equal, of course. Many of them contain lots of sugar or sugar substitutes and may not have as many electrolytes. If the patient is a person who doesn’t like sugar substitutes and doesn’t have a problem with sugar affecting their health, this option would be better. I just find that all that extra sugar is not the thing to be putting into my body daily because it affects my joints adversely.

There are a few “natural” low-calorie sweeteners, but these things cause me digestive and respiratory issues, so there are only a few of these drinks that work for me. I have a hard time with things like Stevia, so I tried to make my own solution with regular electrolyte concentrates. For some reason, these just landed me in the ER with off-balanced electrolytes so I steer clear of those.

I like coconut water because it has the most potassium of any of the ones I have tried and if I drink a whole 14 oz, it takes away any dizziness I have right away. That’s actually really saying something for me. Not too long ago dizziness kept me from doing much besides lying in bed most of the day.

The only drawback to coconut water is the cost. However, damaged good stores help and I like to special-order whole cases for myself from my local natural foods store. I get a discount that way.

Generally, zero-sugar drinks that contain electrolytes are my go-to for daily use. But when it matters the most, coconut water always seems to come out on top.

For those who want to lower blood pressure and still get plenty of electrolytes, a splash of lemon or lime juice is an inexpensive way of getting those electrolytes, too. Not to mention it tastes pretty refreshing. You can add the sweetener of your choice and have a great glass to have around on a hot, sunny day.

I’m glad now that someone suggested drinking coconut water. I don’t look down on anyone when I see them drinking coconut water (even if I didn’t like the taste at first) because of what it has allowed me to do and experience as a result. To me, they’re the smart ones!