Dehydration – the situation where the amount of water in the body is far below the levels required – is known to cause many problems, including problems such as weakness, fatigue, and headaches. It has various physical and psychological effects, but when a new study is done, dehydration at work can swell a person's brain and compromise their occupational safety.
Be it a normal desk job, manual labor for heavy machinery or competitive sports, people often forget to drink water. This leads to dehydration, which can affect the work performance. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology conducted an experiment with 13 participants to better understand how performance in such cases and associated neuronal changes decreases.
As part of the project, the volunteers were asked to perform a simple experiment, repeating exercises for 20 minutes, in which they had to press a button each time a yellow square appeared on the screen. However, they had to perform the monotonous task while exposed to various conditions – varying in heat stress, effort, proper hydration or lack thereof.
"We wanted to find out if exercise and heat stress alone are an effect on your cognitive function and study the effect of dehydration in addition," said Mindy Millard-Stafford, the main investigator of the experiment, in a statement.
The results of the work revealed that the performance of a subject who was relaxed and hydrated declined after 20 minutes, while those exposed to heat and effort showed a much faster performance decline. The case worsened when the dent was twice as deep when the subjects were under the influence of all stressors, including dehydration.
But that was not the only finding. In the subjects' scans, the team noticed some changes in neural activity and parts of the brain. In essence, when subjects performed a series of exercises under the influence of heat to prepare for the monotonous push-button task, the structure of fluid-filled spaces called ventricles in the middle of their brains changed.
When the effort was in Combined with proper water support, the ventricles contracted, but when the subjects were dehydrated and there was no water to drink, the ventricles expanded.
"The structural changes were remarkably consistent in individuals," added Millard-Stafford. "Performance differences in the tasks could not be explained by changes in the size of these brain areas."
Among other things, the researchers also noticed changes in the firing of neurons. "The areas of the brain needed to perform the task seemed to be more active than before, as well as areas that were not necessarily involved in the task," said lead author Matt Wittbrodt. "We think that the latter could be a reaction to the physiological state: the body signals" I am dehydrated. "
This, as the researchers described, highlights the risk of dehydration at work or in competitive sports, and in the future, the team hopes to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness of electrolyte drinks to prevent dehydration in hot environments and to maintain occupational safety especially for heavy machinery.
The study was published in the journal Physiological Reports on August 20