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Hydration

Does Eating Snow Dehydrate You’? Truth or Myth?

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Does Eating snow can dehydrate you? Yes, it does. You may think of snow as just being made of water and being the next best source of hydration, besides water, of course. But science and research suggest that snow can dehydrate your body and should only be your last resort for hydration.

So why does snow or ice dehydrate you?

Let’s understand the basics first. Our body is made up of at least 60-70% water. That’s because several body functions require this amount of fluids.

Whenever the body loses a chunk of liquids in the form of sweat or urine and can’t replace it properly, that’s when you get dehydrated.

Now, if our organs want to digest something we consume, they will have to convert its temperature to body temperature.

Here’s where things get tricky. The temperature of snow is 0° Celsius or 32° Fahrenheit. Our body temperature is 37° Celsius or 98° Fahrenheit. Therefore, the body has to use quite a chunk of energy to convert snow into body temperature.

This energy expenditure uses up a significant amount of water in your body. Thus, causing dehydration.

Is eating snow or ice safe?

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, eating snow is not the same as drinking water. When you eat snow or ice, you are consuming water in a solid form. Your body will require energy to melt this ice into water. When you are sick or dehydrated, your system is already overloaded. Your body will need more fluids to convert ice into water, ultimately leading to dehydration.

In addition, the structure of snow is such that, as it falls, it tends to catch air pollutants and other toxins present in the environment. By the time snow reaches the ground, it becomes totally unsafe for consumption.

In effect, eating snow may not be very good for your body and your hydration levels. In cold weather, you must look for hydration options other than snow or ice.

So, what factors cause dehydration in your body after you have eaten snow or ice? We explain the body metabolism that triggers further dehydration when you eat ice.

What happens to your body when you eat snow?

When you eat snow, you are consuming water in frozen form. Your body must convert this solid into liquid, expending energy in the process. When you are already sick and dehydrated, this process puts an additional load on your body.

In cold weather, your body is diverting all its fluid reserves to keep you warm. When eating snow, you consume liquid at a temperature of as low as 0°C or -32°F.

Once this snow enters your system, your body must go into full gear to bring up the freezing temperature to match your body’s internal temperature. This process requires an additional fluid supply. As a result, your body is spending more water than it is consuming, resulting in further dehydration.

Eating snow can also cause hypothermia, which means that your body loses heat faster than it can produce. This significantly reduces your body temperature quickly, which can turn fatal.

When you eat snow, you can experience effects such as dehydration, poisoning due to impurities, and even hypothermia in some cases. Freezing temperatures increase your risk of injuries.

Eating ice or snow can hurt your lips and tongue, causing wounds. All in all, eating snow or ice, especially in freezing weather is not such a good idea, and yes, eating snow does dehydrate you.

Is it possible to get dehydrated in cold/freezing weather?

So why are we discussing hydration in cold weather? Is it possible to get dehydrated when there is no sun? Surprisingly, the answer is yes!!

Let us understand hydration first.

Hydration is the process by which your body absorbs water. More than 60% of the human body comprises water and other fluids. These fluids are essential to perform various vital functions in the body.

Proper hydration is essential to maintain homeostasis and to ensure that the body is performing all the vital functions expected out of it. 

When you do not drink enough water, or when your body is not able to maintain a proper fluid balance due to various reasons, dehydration ensures. This fluid imbalance results in excessive thirst, increased heartbeat, fatigue, anxiety, decreased urination, strong-smelling urine, and cramping. With dehydration, you lose not only water but also various essential nutrients and minerals.

But is it possible to get dehydrated in cold weather? You are not exposed to heat, there is no excessive sweating.  Where does the risk of dehydration come from?

You will be surprised to know that there is an equal risk of dehydration in extreme heat and extreme cold weather conditions as well.

Dehydration and cold exposure:

A 1984 study conducted by Roberts & colleagues studied the effects of dehydration and thermoregulation during cold exposure. According to the study, a 90-minute exposure to 32°F or 0°C caused a person to lose 3.5% of their body weight worth of fluids. So, dehydration in cold weather is possible and can be risky due to the lack of availability of fresh drinking water.

Remember that when you are exposed to extreme work conditions, illnesses, or weather conditions, you will experience significant dehydration, irrespective of whether it is a hot or a cold climate. According to one study, military soldiers conducting operations in extremely cold weather are often dehydrated by 3 to 8% of their body weight.

Effects of dehydration in cold weather:

For those living and working in cold climates, dehydration can cause:

  • Reduced performance
  • Poor thermoregulation or the body’s ability to keep warm
  • Increased susceptibility to injuries

Factors that influence faster dehydration in colder climates include

  • Cold-induced diuresis or increased urination
  • Respiratory water losses
  • Cold-weather heavy and warm clothing
  • Reduced fluid movement

In such situations, constantly staying hydrated becomes crucial to ensure survival.

The best way to stay hydrated in cold weather is with the help of electrolyte drinks. These drinks are loaded with minerals and nutrients crucial for survival and maintaining fluid balance within the body. If you stay in cold climates, it is a good idea to stock up on such electrolyte drinks to help you tide through dehydration.

How to hydrate with snow or ice?

So, you are thirsty, you have run out of your supply of water, and you need to hydrate to stay alive. What are your hydration options?

The best thing is to 

  • Melt ice or snow into water and drink it. : This process helps you avoid further dehydration
  • Removes any contaminants present in water: Snow can act as a magnet for pollutants, bacteria, and toxins.
  •  Safe to consume: Melting snow to water ensures that the water is safe for you. 

You may not always have the equipment to melt the ice or snow. What can you do in that case?

  • If you have a water bottle or any container, fill it with snow and place it close to your body inside your cold-weather clothing. 
  • Your body heat will slowly melt the ice and turn it into water. Be mindful of cold weather-induced injuries and hypothermia when doing this.

If eating snow is your only option, then ensure to slowly suck on it after placing it in your mouth. This way your body gets enough time to bring the temperature of snow to match your body temperature. Never chomp on the snow quickly.

The same goes for ice. If you want to hydrate with ice, suck on it slowly and gradually.

Finally, a tip!

When you plan to eat snow or melt snow for drinking, always use white snow. Pink snow or watermelon snow, while attractive, is a home for algae and can be disastrous if consumed. Also, dirty snow is, well, dirty and unsafe.

Takeaways:

Eating snow can dehydrate you. Eating ice dehydrates you too. Contrary to popular myth, they don’t help you balance your lost body fluids. When looking for hydration options, electrolyte drinks are your best bet.

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