Q: I see that Pedialyte is being promoted as a sports beverage, hangover remedy, and rehydration drink for sick adults. Is it good for these purposes?
A: Pedialyte was designed as a beverage for sick children who lost fluids because of diarrhea and vomiting and is a good option for people who are dehydrated because of illness. It contains a small amount of carbohydrates (sugar) and a fair amount of electrolytes, notably potassium and sodium, which help regulate fluid balance in the body, among other functions. But in recent years, Pedialyte has been increasingly marketed to adults for the other purposes you mention. It now comes in different formulas with varying levels of electrolytes, including individual powder packets that you mix with water.
Pedialyte is an effective rehydration beverage for children with mild to moderate dehydration caused by viral gastroenteritis. A study in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition in 2006 found it can also help dehydrated adults with mild to moderate viral gastroenteritis at least as well as Gatorade or another oral rehydration beverage.
Regarding Pedialyte as a sports drink, some athletes, coaches, and trainers give it a thumbs-up. It probably helps that its manufacturer (Abbott Laboratories) sponsors some sporting events. Pedialyte contains much more sodium (370 to 650 milligrams per 12-ounce serving) and potassium (280 to 370 milligrams) than sports drinks such as Gatorade, but less than half the carbs (only 6 to 12 grams). We could find no published studies comparing Pedialyte with sports drinks for athletic performance. Keep in mind that plain water is fine for most exercisers, and that sports drinks are generally advised only for people who work out strenuously for more than an hour or so. Depending on the intensity and duration of the physical activity, a carb intake higher than that supplied by Pedialyte may be preferable; the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise.
The hangover claims should be taken with a grain of salt. Because alcohol acts as a diuretic, excessive drinking can promote dehydration, especially if it causes vomiting. Thus, a rehydration beverage may help people who have drunk too much alcohol, though it’s not necessarily better than water or other beverages and a little food. However, no beverage will treat most hangover symptoms. Time is the only effective hangover remedy, since it can take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours for alcohol and its breakdown products to be removed from the body.
Bottom line: Whether you are working out strenuously or are sick with a “stomach bug” or the flu, it’s important to stay hydrated. Water is adequate, but drink what you find most palatable. People (especially children) who are severely dehydrated because of illness should seek medical attention, since they may need intravenous rehydration. Pedialyte contains too much sodium for casual consumption.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Also see Make Your Own Sports Drink.