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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2005 Jul;289(1):R275-80. Epub 2005 Apr 21.

Effect of water deprivation on cognitive-motor performance in healthy men and women.

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Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Clinical Nutrition, Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital, CH 4031 Basel, Switzerland.


Whether mental performance is affected by slowly progressive moderate dehydration induced by water deprivation has not been examined previously. Therefore, objective and subjective cognitive-motor function was examined in 16 volunteers (8 females, 8 males, mean age: 26 yr) twice, once after 24 h of water deprivation and once during normal water intake (randomized cross-over design; 7-day interval). Water deprivation resulted in a 2.6% decrease in body weight. Neither cognitive-motor function estimated by a paced auditory serial addition task, an adaptive 5-choice reaction time test, a manual tracking test, and a Stroop word-color conflict test nor neurophysiological function assessed by auditory event-related potentials P300 (oddball paradigm) differed (P > 0.1) between the water deprivation and the control study. However, subjective ratings of mental performance changed significantly toward increased tiredness (+1.0 points) and reduced alertness (-0.9 points on a 5-point scale; both: P < 0.05), and higher levels of perceived effort (+27 mm) and concentration (+28 mm on a 100-mm scale; both: P < 0.05) necessary for test accomplishment during dehydration. Several reaction time-based responses revealed significant interactions between gender and dehydration, with prolonged reaction time in women but shortened in men after water deprivation (Stroop word-color conflict test, reaction time in women: +26 ms, in men: -36 ms, P < 0.01; paced auditory serial addition task, reaction time in women +58 ms, in men -31 ms, P = 0.05). In conclusion, cognitive-motor function is preserved during water deprivation in young humans up to a moderate dehydration level of 2.6% of body weight. Sexual dimorphism for reaction time-based performance is present. Increased subjective task-related effort suggests that healthy volunteers exhibit cognitive compensating mechanisms for increased tiredness and reduced alertness during slowly progressive moderate dehydration.

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