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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



weird things about america, #3,318

– nobody seems to know about oral rehydration therapy.

Stuck in the Basque country in the eighties with not much of the language and a lot of food poisoning, ORT kept me off an intravenous drip and nursed me back to life in a couple of days. Since then, whenever I’ve had really bad diarrhea, oral rehydration salts been the first thing I’ve bought or mixed up to get me back on my feet.

ORT is was described by the Lancet as “the most important medical advance this century. It was discovered by US researchers in 1968, and is now used by 38% of all diarrhea cases in the world, saving millions of lives. It’s also fantastically cheap – it’s just a magic ratio of sodium and glucose and water.

Unfortunately, I have a really bad memory, so I can never remember what the magic ratio is. So, for the record, it’s:

Mix it up well, and drink in small sips. It’s as easy as that.

I was stumbling around New York, very ill, this week, and asked in a pharmacy about ORT. They said they’d never heard of it, and to buy some Gatorade. Apart from the fact that Gatorade is more expensive, it just isn’t the same thing. Gatorade has too much sugar and not enough salt for the magic to work.

In cases of diarrhea, it’s really difficult to get water into the human body, because the usual method – absorption through the intestinal wall – is broken. ORT works because the glucose provides an alternative transport across the intestinal wall for the sodium, which increases the concentrate of the salts behind the wall, which means the water moves across far more easily.

But you need to get the ratios right. Gatorade doesn’t have it. Apparently the kid’s electrolyte fluids (like Pedialyte and Kaolectrolyte) are better, but even they seem to be full of weirdness (like Pedialyte ‘goes bad’ very quickly). And why just for children? I don’t get it.

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petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.