This Ebola Treatment Sounds a Lot Like Your Sports Drink

Learn about the beverage doctors are using to treat Ebola in West Africa and how it is similar to popular sports drinks.

If you've been following news of the recent Ebola outbreak, you've doubtless heard how important hydration is to those infected with the virus. But you might not know that one of the weapons of choice in keeping the disease at bay is a beverage that's similar to the sports drinks you often down  during workouts.

Proper fluid intake and maintaining electrolyte (body salt) levels are literally life-and-death matters for someone who is fighting Ebola. The fluid keeping Ebola patients in West Africa appropriately hydrated is called an oral rehydration solution (ORS), which consists of salt, sugar and water.

NPR recently reported that doctors throughout Nigeria testified that drinking between four and five liters (a gallon) of the solution per day was instrumental to patients' recoveries. The ORS helped ward off the onset of the virus's debilitating second-stage symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea—both of which worsen dehydration.

The formula for ORS recommended by the World Health Organization is six teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt per quart of water. That's 24 teaspoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of salt per gallon. This basic solution can be life-saving, though the WHO also offers packages of electrolyte powder that contain the salts potassium chloride and citrate, which can also be helpful.

That basic recipe—water, sugar, salt and electrolytes—is essentially what you take in when you drink Gatorade, Powerade, or many other sports drinks, albeit with different nutrient ratios. A gallon of ORS packs much more salt (about 4,600 milligrams versus 1,707 in the sports drink) and a lot less sugar (96 grams versus 224 grams in the sports drink) than Gatorade. Levels of the other electrolytes vary.

One big difference between an ORS and your typical sports drink: taste. Sports drinks are among the most popular beverages sold in the U.S., but unflavored ORS tastes "dreadful," according to that same NPR report.

RELATED: Ask the Experts: Why Are Electrolytes Important?

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