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Oral Rehydration Solution: Its History & Efficacy Against Dehydration

An oral rehydration solution (ORS) is a mixture of salts, sugars, and drinking water. These solutions contain a precise ratio of glucose and electrolytes to address fluid loss in the human body, in accordance with standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Oral rehydration solutions also contain sodium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and chloride.

These nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream through the sodium-glucose cotransport system — where the precisely balanced fluids and nutrients pass through the cell walls of the small intestine with far greater efficiency than water alone. This helps to rapidly replenish electrolytes that are lost during strenuous activity, extreme weather exposure, and illnesses that cause symptoms like diarrhea.

Learn more about the history of oral rehydration solutions, their use in therapies to treat fluid loss, and how you can incorporate an ORS into your daily regimen.

History of Oral Rehydration Solution

Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) were originally formulated as part of a plan to improve diarrhoeal disease control and treatment. Prior to the creation of ORS solutions and oral rehydration salts, most doctors used intravenous fluid therapy to treat fluid loss caused by illness or heat exposure such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion that cause dehydration.

In the 1960s, physiologists found that glucose — a form of sugar — helped to increase the absorption of water and sodium. The absorption pathway they discovered is known today as the sodium-glucose cotransport system. The first successful use of glucose saline — a sugar and salt solution — was documented by United States Army Captain Phillips in 1964 and used on cholera patients.

Following this successful cholera treatment, researchers at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Calcutta and the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka formulated the first modern ORS to treat fluid loss related to medical conditions. The first wide application of ORS for the treatment of diarrhea related to cholera was during the Bangladesh liberation war.

Dr. Dilip Mahalanabis, a pediatrician from John Hopkins Medical Center for Research and Training in Calcutta, used ORS to successfully treat diarrhea in Bangladeshi refugees during an outbreak in 1971. The World Health Organization (WHO) took notice, and, in 1978, they launched a global program designed to target diarrheal diseases and their attendant fluid loss with oral rehydration solutions as a key treatment tool.

At the time, the Lancet described oral rehydration solutions as “potentially the most important medical advance of this century.” Research published by Olivier Fontaine, Paul Garner, and MK Bahn — experts in medical, biotechnology, and child health fields — found that ORS has saved millions of lives from illnesses like cholera and rotavirus.

Today, many organizations including the WHO, UNICEF, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the use of oral rehydration solutions to treat dehydration.

ORS and Dehydration

Dehydration is a health condition where the body loses fluids and electrolytes, negatively impacting its ability to perform normal functions. Your body loses fluids and electrolytes through sweat during strenuous exercise, hard labor, and extreme heat conditions such as heatwaves. Your body can also lose fluids and electrolytes when you have an infection that causes vomiting and watery diarrhea.

Signs of dehydration include headache, dizziness, weakness, and fainting. A fluid and electrolyte imbalance is the main actor behind these effects. Drinking an ORS like DripDrop can help to replenish electrolyte imbalance due to mild to moderate dehydration.

An ORS is more effective than drinking water because plain water doesn’t contain many electrolytes. While sports drinks claim to replenish electrolytes, they’re packed with sugar and artificial additives. DripDrop ORS contains a precise ratio of electrolytes including glucose and sodium, making it a more effective choice for treating dehydration.

How Do Oral Rehydration Solutions Work?

Oral rehydration therapy involves using electrolyte solutions that include glucose to replace fluid loss and treat dehydration. It’s far less invasive compared to intravenous methods that need to be administered through a needle in a hospital setting. ORS can be taken orally or given through a nasogastric tube if the patient cannot eat or hold down fluids.

When the ORS mixture of sodium, glucose, water and other electrolytes reaches the small intestine, the sodium-glucose cotransport system is activated and the fluid mixture is rapidly absorbed, which rehydrates the body.

Because the sodium-glucose co-transport allows fluids to be absorbed so rapidly - faster than water or sports drinks - it is an effective treatment for dehydration due to acute diarrhea, acute gastroenteritis, and many other conditions.

What’s in an Oral Rehydration Solution?

Not all oral rehydration solutions are the same. While the WHO has a standard recipe for ORS, there is some variation in available formulations. In the 1980s, the WHO changed the standard formulation of ORS from sodium bicarbonate to trisodium citrate dihydrate. This citrate is widely used as a preservative and flavoring in food. This change came after clinical trials and systematic reviews showed that the citrate solution was more effective in alleviating diarrhea and produced a cheaper end product.

In 2003, the WHO also updated the osmolarity — the measure of the concentration of a solution — to be lower than previous standards. Research published in JAMA, Cochrane, and other public health journals showed the reduced osmolarity oral rehydration solution was more effective in reducing the duration of diarrhea.

Today, most ORS contain the following ingredients:

  • Sodium: One of the main electrolytes in fluid, sodium helps to absorb nutrients and plays a role in muscle contractions and cognitive function. It’s typically in ORS in the form of sodium chloride.
  • Glucose: A key agent in ORS, this ingredient helps the body absorb sodium through the cotransport system. It also helps to energize muscles and remedy fatigue.
  • Other electrolytes: Nutrients like potassium, zinc, and magnesium play a crucial role in fluid balance. Potassium helps to regulate fluid balance and also plays a role in contracting muscles. Zinc and magnesium both work to support immune health to help fight illness-caused diarrhea.
How DripDrop ORS Can Help

For severe dehydration — especially in dehydrated children — it’s important to visit the emergency department or a doctor for treatment.

DripDrop ORS contains a precise electrolyte ratio that offers mild to moderate dehydration relief fast. It’s a great tasting beverage that doesn’t have the excess sugar of sports drinks and contains more electrolytes than either sports drinks or water. It’s used by health care professionals on relief missions, elite athletes, and in the field by firefighters and the military.

DripDrop ORS packets come in many flavors from berry, watermelon, lemon, and orange to hot DripDrop flavors like spiced apple cider. Add the electrolyte powder to a favorite water bottle you can sip from throughout the day.

Get started with our most popular multi-flavor pouch for dehydration relief fast. Or, learn more about how you can save up to 25% on every purchase when you subscribe.